After having opened his doors to migrant workers in Sikkim, former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia has been trying to help his own people stranded in other states due to the coronavirus-forced nationwide lockdown.
“We are trying to help the people stuck in cities like Delhi, Chennai and all other places with ration and essential items. We are using our contacts across the country to reach out to those in distress,” Bhutia told PTI.
“I had set up a helpline and the number belongs to the manager of United Sikkim Football Club’s manager.”
One of Indian football’s modern greats, Bhutia supported the resumption of sport without spectators when the situation arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic improves, considering the “scope and reach of television and digital platforms”.
“When the situation improves a little, it can be started as we all know the reach of television and digital platforms these days. By having all precautions in place, I think this can be tried out,” he said.
“They are working on ways to restart the leagues in Europe without crowd initially. I know it will not be great for the players playing in front of empty stands but television and social media platforms are there as far as the financial aspect is concerned.”
Sikkim remains coronavirus-free and Bhutia feels a combination of factors helped the state.
“One thing is that the people of Sikkim are law-abiding citizens, they also give a lot of importance to hygiene and health,” the 43-year-old said.
“And then, the timing of the outbreak may have helped. Because it was still winter there were less tourists. If the outbreak had happened in April-May instead of January-February, it may have been different.
“Just imagine 10 lakhs tourists getting stuck in the state. It would have been very difficult then as we also struggle with infrastructure.”
He added, “While it’s not a great thing in normal circumstance, in this case at least, the lack of good connectivity to Sikkim may have helped. You can only go to Sikkim by road as there is no rail or air services.”
Bagdogra in Bengal is the nearest airport from state capital Gangtok, while New Jalpaiguri is the closest railway station.
Bhutia has been part of Fifa and Asian Football Confederation’s campaigns on the Covid-19 pandemic, and he says these initiatives by those playing the world’s biggest sport do help.
“Football is a global sport and when you have world icons like Maradona, Pele and Beckham involved, it does play a positive role.
“See, when you talk of football icons they are not just restricted to their own countries, they are known and loved across the world. It is not like a Hollywood actor or a politician,” the 43-year-old added.
Bhutia says the Covid-19 pandemic will teach people to take health and fitness more seriously. He hoped governments across the world will now not spend on beefing up defence at the expense of healthcare.
“Guns and missiles are not going to save us from this virus now. We need good healthcare infrastructure,” he said.
“I would also like to say that why not look for and set up hundreds of grounds and open spaces instead of only focussing on 100-bedded hospitals. Many people will probably not be required to go to hospital if the emphasis is on remaining fit.
“One thing this has taught us is that we must try to remain fit and healthy at all times. Playing sport is the best way to remain fit and it should be always encouraged by everyone.”
In between, he has also helped an 18-year-old woman find accommodation after she was thrown out of her rented house by the landlord on suspicion of being infected by the coronavirus.