Nupur Toppo is virtually in Kiev on Sunday night, eyes darting from an Mario Balotelli to a Cesc Fabregas to a Riccardo Montolivo.
The Euro Cup final showdown between Spain and Italy is football's glittering face. Gumla's 18-year-old Nupur represents the shadow under the shine. The emerging international player is a mere spectator, thanks to a freak injury and the state's alleged apathy.
The girl watching Euro Cup on TV is nursing a right knee injury ' she hurt herself at a practice session at the Sports Authority of India (Jharkhand chapter) centre at Ranchi's Morabadi in January 2011 ' since 18 months. And, she faces a far tougher test than big boys Pirlo or Fabregas, as she will undergo surgery in Calcutta "soon".
On Saturday, members of the Jharkhandi Bhasha Evam Sanskriti Akhara and sportspersons played football at Albert Ekka Chowk to protest against the SAI's alleged apathy. A player is supposed to get Rs 50,000 as medical insurance and treatment in any of these health hubs ' Apollo, RIMS, Raj Hospital or Gurunanak Hospital.
Sources at SAI, however, said they had decided to send her to Calcutta days before the protest.
Injuries are normal in a high-speed sport like soccer. But what is shocking is that the girl was injured during practice at the SAI centre on Birsa Munda football stadium campus at Morabadi and did not get immediate medical attention. The residential facility for over 80 players functions without any medical facilities, including permanent doctors.
All this while, the daughter of a retired CRPF jawan C. Toppo had been spending her own money, around Rs 12,000, on treatment. The lower middle class teenager, one among four sisters, could not afford more. Moreover, her money ' "SAI says it will reimburse my bills" ' was running out.
What the girl finds most tragic is that her peaking career hit a painful pause. "I can't run or walk fast. I feel like crying when I see players practise. I've tried to resume my game, but my knee fails me," said the girl who at age 16 got her first big-ticket break in 2010 against Bangladesh and Iran during Asia Cup qualifiers.
Representing India in U-19, she scored a fiery goal against Bangladesh. Her tryst with professional football began in 2008 when she represented Jharkhand in U-17 in Nainital, and in senior nationals, 2009, in Manipur.
Players at the SAI centre agree that the lack of medical facilities could cost many emerging talents their careers.
"During practice sessions, if there is a serious injury, there is no regular vehicle to rush us to the hospital," says one.
"A contractual doctor comes here for morning walks. That's when he checks a player if he or she reports any problem. But he is not regular," says another.
S.K. Verma, SAI centre in-charge, admitted they should have a full-time medical facility. "A proposal in this regard was sent to the Calcutta regional centre long ago," he said.
But he claimed that the centre did all it could. "We call in a retired RIMS doctor based in Morabadi during emergency. This apart, SAI reimburses players who get treated," he said.
Why was Nupur neglected for so long?
"Neglecting anyone is never our intention. We have been consulting doctors from time to time regarding Nupur. Couple of months ago, she even played a match two months ago in Godda. We are waiting for her parents to come so that she can be taken to Calcutta as soon as possible. They haven't turned up," Verma said.
Despite attempts, no senior official at regional SAI office in Calcutta could be contacted.
Is the state fully responsible for Nupur's plight?