Dr. Dibyajyoti Bhagawati, a State Government volleyball coach assigned to Sonitpur district, had envisioned the presence of at least one Assamese in the Indian national team. He worked on an ingenious way to scout for talents. He would visit shops selling shoes to look for those who required shoe sizes of 10 and above. This hunt led him to a young Abhijeet Bhattacharya who would not only fulfil his coach’s dream by representing India between 1996 to 2006 but will also go on to captain the national team from 2003 to 2005.
During his early days, the coach convinced the Bhattacharya family to let Abhijeet switch from badminton to volleyball. The rest as they say is history. Hitherto, he remains the only player from Assam to have played for the Indian national team. A record he wants to do everything to change.
Post-retirement, Abhijeet has gone about his goal like a professional. He wants to give back to the game that had given him everything. He wants children from Assam to experience the joy and thrill of the sport.
“The sport is a low investment one, easy to learn and play and can be very entertaining for audiences to watch live. This makes it ideal for rural settings,” he says.
His current vision of Volleyball Mission 100 to hunt for Abhijits from 100 villages in the State is a product of happenstance. During the Covid-19 induced lockdown, he conducted online coaching classes for aspiring players across Assam. During a visit to a village near his hometown, he came across children playing volleyball sans proper equipment. There and then he taught them to make volleyballs with hand towels. This experience left a deep impression on him. He then made it a mission to get them volleyballs and to collect resources for training many others.
When queries began seeping in from all quarters, he organised an online underhand volleyball league to sustain their interest. These simple steps gave rise to the idea of Brahmaputra Volleyball League (BVL), an initiative that has led to a spurt in interest in the sport across Assam. The first edition of BVL had 400 players from 49 teams (33 Men, 16 Women). To overcome fund crunch, he reached out to his peers and friends by asking them to own a team for as low as ₹ 12,000.
Now, BVF has teams adopted by former India volleyball captain Vaishali Phadtare (Dagiapara), former badminton player and Arjuna awardee Aparna Popat (Pub-Nalbari VCC during 1st season, Dhulimar Women’s Volleyball team from Dhemaji), former KKR director Joy Bhattacharya (Bapuji Club VCC), US-based NGO Fass International (Hazarikapara), NRI Debojit Bora (Chaturanga VCC) to name a few.
The League saw better participation during its second season: 2,200 players across 209 teams. It is expecting 300 teams in the third edition. For the record, 116 villages have registered already for the October event.
Speaking to Asom Barta, the spiker expressed satisfaction at the initial success of his initiative.
“Assam has hidden talents. What these talents need is a sporting environment. BVL aims to be the catalyst to drive this change to empower sportspersons from rural areas. Beginning Season 2, we started live streaming these matches through our Facebook page. This I believe is providing them the much-needed exposure,” he says.
Beyond playing volleyball for the first time, these children are getting the opportunity to participate in an organised competition. This means donning a team jersey with their names on it, travelling outside their villages, and experiencing new things. “All these small things”, he says, “spark passion, motivation and joy among the children.”
Furthermore, villages where the BVL is played, host the children and others with joy. People donate vegetables, cook and serve meals for the players, and create a micro-system of support to encourage them.
His sheer grit and determination have helped him to instil hope and build an ecosystem of support while enabling these talents to be in a league of their own.