Our Sport & Strength

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BASHIR ASSAD

FROM aggressive acts like stone-pelting to flowing along the joy that the act of sports brings, Kashmir has, indeed, undergone an amazing transformation in the recent years. Without exaggeration, almost every zone in the Valley now celebrates this successful transformation of our youth through various sports activities in what would otherwise be a heavy atmosphere that would mourn the death and destruction of our young buds in violent clashes. Now, thankfully, there are no pellets, no bullets; only laughter and cheering while games are being played.

Every day, we come across reports of outstanding performances by the Kashmiri youth in one or the other sports activity. We have champions bringing gold, silver and bronze medals from national and international sports meets. This journey symbolises not just a shift in perception but also accentuates the influence of sports in fostering a positive change. The transformation is so intense and pervasive that the entire Kashmir Valley seems to have changed into a huge sports stadium. Every single sport – recognised and registered internationally – has found its way into Kashmir. Gymnastics, polo, badminton, volleyball, football, cricket, karate… you name it and it is played here. Hundreds of tournaments at the local level are organised in every nook and corner of the Valley.  Parents, in particular, encourage their wards to go and specialise in games of their choice. And what is fascinating is how the Kashmiri youth are now representing the nation in many international events. It’s wonderful to see the warmth with which they are received when back from their tourneys and how their achievements are celebrated collectively.

This phenomenal shift can be attributed to many factors. Right from a keen interest by the administration to transform Kashmir through sporting achievements, to an improved sporting infrastructure, to the youth’s disillusionment with violence and violent political narratives and an organic shift towards something more joy-oriented  like sports. It’s the same youth that was previously indoctrinated to the extent that they would choose death over life. Now they have learnt how to celebrate life.

  • Cricket & other sporting endeavours

Cricket is the most popular sport in Kashmir. Recently, a video went viral on social media platforms wherein some elderly Kashmiris, in the age group of 60-70, were seen playing cricket by a river somewhere in rural Kashmir. This beautifully reflects how Kashmiris, irrespective of age, are allowing their love of cricket blossom. Hundreds of cricket tournaments are being organised across the Valley. Dozens of young cricketers have earned name and fame for being outstanding performers. Their images on social media get huge likes and thousands of youngsters love to be their followers. Cricket has undeniably contributed enormously in the transformation of Kashmir. However, the Valley is yet to produce a cricketer matching international standards. Just two or three cricketers could find a place at a national hook-up but could not make a regular place in the Indian cricket team. Yet, cricket remains the most popular game. And it hopefully, won’t be long before someone from here does make it to the international circuit.

There was a time when cricket was played or liked only as a part of political rhetoric. Now there is genuine love for the game. A very large number of youngsters have fallen in love with Virat Kohli for his unparalleled cricketing skills and passion.  Also, the cricketers from the Valley will do anything to find a place in the Indian Premier League (IPL). The IPL is seen as the biggest platform by those wanting to represent the country.

No wonder there is a growing demand for improving and upgrading the infrastructure for cricket. Youngsters from all social backgrounds are seen pushing for infrastructure for cricket beside other sports. Though, some of the social media trending, if keenly followed, gives us a sense that some among the less aware still hold prejudices. But the educated and the literate love cricket and see it beyond politics and political narratives.

There is a healthy trend among the Kashmiri youth of participating in other less popular sporting activities and they are doing exceptionally well in these too. Of late, martial art and gymnastics have emerged as fascinating games for both males and females. There is a trend of taking up games recognised by Olympics as career options. This has really worked for many youngsters who won medals in international competitions and brought home many laurels. The trend surprisingly started from remote rural and frontier districts of north Kashmir and from there, spread towards central Kashmir and south Kashmir districts.

Football has also played a significant role in this transformation. With the establishment of better training facilities and tournaments, Kashmiri footballers have gained prominence across the country. The Real Kashmir Football Club’s rise to the I-League stands as a testament to the sporting potential of Kashmir.

  • The force behind the happy numbers

As per official figures, the number of youth participating in sports has crossed the 35 lakh mark – a target set by the UT administration, and there are concerted efforts to involve more and more youth in sporting activities.

The credit for initially mobilising the youth for sporting goes to the Indian Army. The Army started the initiative much earlier and the civil administration supplemented the efforts more vociferously post the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019. The so-called “popular” governments were funded wholeheartedly by the central government under the Khelo India yojna but the funds were allegedly siphoned off by the political bosses of the times and the benefits of the yojna hardly reached the deserving youth. The Indian Army came under severe criticism from the political class; however, it remained resilient and focussed and the results are there for everybody to see.

There also are serious efforts by the UT administration to use sports to transform the youth that’s been slipping into drugs. Drug addiction and trafficking pose the biggest challenge to both the security and the social fabric of the State. The policy planners are of the opinion that sports could be the most effective de-addiction programme. There is a growing opinion that sports have worked as major de-radicalisation and de-addiction projects.

Indeed, Kashmir’s transformation from a stone pelting zone to a hub of sporting excellence is a story that resonates beyond its borders. The shift showcases the potency of sports in instilling discipline, fostering unity, and driving socio-economic development. It is hoped that the sporting activities really work towards de-addiction of our youth too.

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