Brahmaputra Volleyball League: A silent sports revolution in Assam
BVL is one of the biggest sports events in India, going by the number of people it involves. Following its mega-success from last year, the BVL 2021/22 season involves around 2200 players from 93 villages.
The U21 girls team from Dagiapara made the 25-km journey for their away match in Hazarikapara on a team bus on December 11, arriving at the venue well in time for their 2 pm match. The home team of Hazarikapara, a village near Sipajhar town of Assam's Darang district, 68 km from Guwahati, won 3-1 (25-16, 15-25, 25-15, and 25-9). The match was streamed live on mobile phones, as young girls sharing the common dream of playing for India faced off in front of a 5000-strong crowd.
This match was one of the many being played as part of the ongoing second season of the Brahmaputra Volleyball League (BVL), a league silently bringing about a spurt of interest in volleyball across Assam's youths.
Following on from its mega-success from last year, the BVL 2021/22 season involves around 2200 players across 209 teams from 93 villages across 28 districts. Their aim is to follow in the footsteps of Archana Das, a star player from last season who played for the Assam U-21 side in the national championship last year.
Abhijit Bhattacharya, a former captain of the Indian national volleyball team, remains the only player from Assam to have played for India. It was his dream of turning the state into a volleyball hotspot that led to the BVL last year.
"90% of these children are playing for a team or wearing a personalised jersey for the first time in their life. That is the beauty of the league," he told The Bridge.
"I always dreamt of providing a platform to the rural children of Assam, they get no exposure because all the best players play in better senior-level leagues," he said.
'Adopt a Club': A novel way to create a sports ecosystem in villages
However, Abhijit has a bigger vision in sowing volleyball dreams across the state's rural populace.
The teams in the BVL are sponsored by private entities for a cost which can be as low as Rs 12000. These 93 private entities this season are well-wishers from the community ranging from villagers to a few bigger names from the city invested in volleyball's future, and also includes private companies and state volleyball associations.
When Dagiapara (adopted by Vaishali Phadtare, former India volleyball captain) were taking on Hazarikapara (adopted by Fass International, an USA-based NGO), in Lakhimpur, 300 kms away, Bapuji Club VCC (adopted by Joy Bhattacharjya, former KKR team director) were taking on Chaturanga VCC (adopted by Debojit Bora, an USA-based individual).
"This league is developing through support from the community. Each team is adopted by well-wishers. We provide the kids' traveling expenditure with that fund," said Abhijit.
Speaking on channelizing youth towards sports and creating a sporting ecosystem in villages, he said, "Volleyball is a very low-cost game, you need less fees, don't need big infrastructure. So those who don't have a bat or racket can come out of their villages to play volleyball."
"After that you can go to any sports, that's fine. But the main idea is to create a sporting environment in our villages," he added.
BVL's spurt and volleyball dreams
BVL is one of the biggest sports events in India, going by the number of people it involves.
In the first season, there were a 50 teams (33 boys' teams, 17 girls' teams) from 35 villages and clubs from 16 districts, with a total of 400 players participating. The second edition, which started on 8 November, has seen participation grow by five times.
"We made sure that every kid, every player gets a team jersey with their name written on the back. That's the motivation for all of them," said Abhijit.
In Hazarikapara, however, one of the 100-odd villages where the BVL has taken off, players and coaches say they have bigger dreams than just wearing jerseys.
Jayanta Sharma, former Assam player and a national-level referee, is one of the coaches involved in BVL. He is one of 30 players from Hazarikapara who have represented the state team in the past.
He said, "Assam Volleyball Mission 100 was born under the leadership of Abhijit Bhattacharya, the objective of this competition is to expand volleyball to every corner in Assam and bring out hidden talents and take them to the national level through advanced training and proper guidance."
Sanjib Sharma, the other coach with the Hazarikapara team, represented Assam twice. "For searching talents, we have gone from house to house, explaining to parents that sports leads to physical as well as mental development," he said.
Smita Medhi, a class 10 student of Nehru Smriti Balika Vidyalaya, said, "We are taught well by the coaches and they ask us to keep our focus equally on studies. The experience with volleyball and BVL has been beautiful, we have visited many places, met many senior players from whom we have learned a lot of new things. In the future, I want to represent the Indian team."
Staying true to the league's nature of nurturing, there is a practice around the BVL that a fruit sapling is planted before every match, either at the house of a BVL player or near the playing ground.
The Facebook page of BVL stated, "By the end of Season 2 more than 1000 fruit saplings will be planted. In the next couple of years, thousands of fruit plants across our BVL villages will be the main source of nutrition for our players."
Where to Watch: All the matches of BVL are live streaming on the SportVot app