Photo: BC Lions
By Don Landry, CFL.ca
What is certain is that Sukh Chungh inspires young Canadians of all cultural backgrounds to play football.
The veteran offensive lineman, who is heading into his third year with the BC Lions, is a good player. And good players naturally inspire and capture the imagination of the generation that comes after them.
His inspiration for young footballers of South Asian descent is also clear, although Chungh is too humble to say so himself. Not until you push him on it a bit. Then he agrees, but more generally.
“I think so,” Chungh said, asking if his presence could be motivating for children of Indian descent. “When you have a guy with a name like mine…you see someone who looks like you.”
There’s great value in that, and Chungh knows it firsthand.
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Born in British Columbia to parents who emigrated from India and had roots in Port Coquitlam, BC, Chungh had his own South Asian soccer hero to look up to when he tipped a toe in as a ninth grade student the world of Canadian football dove. Likewise, it was an offensive lineman playing for the Lions at the time.
“Growing up, watching Bobby Singh play was a big thing for me,” Chungh said of the former CFL and NFL offensive lineman. “Has done a lot for me”
Singh, who was born in Fiji but grew up in Richmond, BC, signed with the Calgary Stampeders in 2002 and played two seasons there before playing the next three with the Lions, winning a Gray Cup in 2006.
Chungh was in a formative period at the time, just 10 years old when Singh first signed with the Stamps. He was just turning into a teenager when Singh played for the Leos.
“Knowing a guy who has the same background as me just made me realize, hey, it’s possible,” he said.
In the dressing room, Chungh said, it’s all about performance.
“It doesn’t matter what color your skin is or your background or anything. All that matters is that you can do your job properly. Are you a good teammate, you understand, a respectful person and so on?”
However, that is once you get there. Feeling like it’s a world you belong in, a world where you can be accepted and where you can excel?
This requires pioneers who can pave the way for a child who might otherwise not see the opportunity.
That was Singh for Chungh. And what Chungh is now to the youngsters who are now watching him play.
Chungh believes things have slowly changed since the days he played for Terry Fox High Secondary in Port Coquitlam and that more and more youngsters of South Asian descent are taking up the game.
Football wasn’t a big part of Indian culture, he says, and certainly not when he was a kid.
“I wouldn’t say that watching football matches is a big part of an Indian household,” Chungh said. “I would love to see it grow more in our community. And that’s a big initiative for me with the BC Lions.”
“I’ve seen a lot of South Asians,” he said of the young soccer players he’s met on his travels around BC’s lower mainland. “I’ve seen more. I’ve seen it grow.”
That growth, Chungh said, will gain momentum. Not just in BC. And not just because of the inspiration from the field.
There are two very influential Canadians of South Asian descent in powerful positions in both the Lions and the Edmonton Elks.
Businessman Amar Doman, president and CEO of Futura Corporation, bought the Lions last summer. Victor Cui – who, as founding CEO, was instrumental in building the mixed martial arts giant called ONE Championship – took over as President and CEO of Elks in January.
“Amar is going to be a great owner,” Chungh said. “The energy he brings with him. Having him as a South Asian does a lot to the community.
“Vancouver is a very diverse place. Same goes for Victor over there in Edmonton. I’m sure having him at the top there means a lot to their community as well, as he brings all kinds of cultures to the games.
“I would say I’ve seen the growth in our community,” Chungh said of the growing interest among fans of South Asian heritage. “I’ve seen the growth as I’ve evolved to learn more about the game and where (more) people of South Asian descent are coming to BC Lion games.
“I think there’s always room for growth,” Chungh added, adding to the team’s and league’s fan base.
“We have definitely taken steps in the right direction. I’m excited for the future and it looks like we’re putting a lot more effort into reaching out to the communities that may not know what the CFL is and getting them to come to more football games.
A decade and a half ago, Bobby Singh created something that a young Sukh Chungh could identify with. Now, Chungh in black and orange is patrolling the line of scrimmage like his boyhood hero once did, motivating someone else.
“If I’ve done that for someone, that’s the main goal,” he said. “Doing all of this should inspire anyone who thinks they can play football professionally, that they can do it.”
Read Don Landry’s original article on CFL.ca