SRINAGAR: For 70 years, the sportsmen of Jammu and Kashmir were like a rudderless ship. Despite their talent for competing at all levels, they had limited opportunities to prove their mettle. However, the repeal of Article 370 – a temporary provision of the Constitution on August 5, 2019 – has opened a new world for sportsmen in the Himalayan region.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to lead the regime to repeal J&K’s so-called special status and make it a union territory has proven to be a game changer as the government over the past three years has ensured that the young people of J&K excel in all spheres of life, including sport.
Many steps have been taken to create a world-class sports infrastructure at J&K. New policies were introduced to make J&K a powerhouse of the sport. All possible support is extended to local sportspeople who strive to make UT and the nation proud in different sports disciplines. Sports activities take place throughout the year while infrastructure works take place on a large scale. Emphasis is not just placed on activities like cricket and football, but equal importance is given to popular activities like volleyball, kho-kho, kabaddi, water and winter sports which were ignored in the past.
As J&K prepares to celebrate the third anniversary of the removal of Section 370, the Union Territory administration can proudly say that it has revamped the athletic infrastructure and made groundbreaking changes to the arena. sport in the Himalayan region.
A talented Kashmiri skier, Arif Khan, carried the national flag of India during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February this year. Arif, 31, was the only Indian competitor at the games, having qualified in the slalom and giant slalom events. He was the first Indian to qualify in two events of the same edition of the games.
A 22-year-old boy from Jammu and SunrisersHyderabad, Umran Malik, who made a name for himself with his fast pace that often broke the 150 km/h mark, was included in the Indian team and he did his international debut against Ireland earlier this year.
Union Sports Department provides liberal funding
Over the past three years, the Union Sports Ministry has invested Rs 506.13 crore in 77 infrastructure projects under the Khelo India scheme in the Himalayan region.
Twenty-four sports academies have been accredited and 199 “Khelo India” centers (at district level) and 11 KheloIndia State Centers of Excellence have been approved under the Khelo India program in J&K and Ladakh.
In addition, under the government’s ‘J&K Sports Facility Improvement’ (PMDP) program, 30 sports infrastructure projects, along with sports equipment, have been sanctioned in the UTs of Jammu and Kashmir and from Ladakh for an amount of Rs 273.85 crore.
A multi-sport facilities center dedicated to former Union Minister Arun Jaitley arrives at Hira Nagar in Jammu region. The center comes at an allocated cost of funds of Rs 200 crore under the PMDP program for the overhaul of the sports structure.
The Winter Games Center of Excellence is being set up at a world famous ski resort in Gulmarg, North Kashmir to promote winter sports in the valley.
Unlike in the past, the J&K administration is focusing on quality sports facilities and training not only in the cities of Srinagar and Jammu but in all 20 districts of Jammu and Kashmir. Each district is equipped with high-level indoor and outdoor stadiums.
The administration also strives to prepare the youngsters of J&K for big events like the Asian Games and the Olympics. Previously, J&K lacked the necessary infrastructure, training and coaches for major international events. Over the past three years, coaches have been hired to train players so they can develop the skills needed to compete at national and international levels.
The revival of water sports
In April this year, the first ever open kayak and canoe marathon race organized by the J&K Sports Council was held in the Jhelum River in Srinagar. Prior to August 5, 2019 – when the Center announced its decision to revoke J&K’s special status and split it into two union territories – hosting such an event was impossible because the required infrastructure was not in place. . Over the past three years, sports infrastructure has been developed to organize such activities.
The availability of natural water resources at J&K can make the Union Territory the preferred destination for water sports. Last year water sports started at Ranjit Sagar Dam and this year Jhelum, Manasbal, Nigeen and Wular are all set to host water sports events.
Rowing activity reminiscent of the Shikara regattas which were the key feature of water sports competitions from the 1950s to 1980s on Dal Lake in Srinagar is likely to resume.
The Union Sports Ministry has sanctioned two water sports centers for J&K, one in Jammu and the other in Srinagar. The main objective is to build facilities to Olympic standards and create the talent needed to participate in the next Olympic Games.
Water sports were largely neglected by previous ruling regimes for decades. However, there have been remarkable achievements over the past three years. The J&K government has purchased equipment worth Rs 6 crore for rowing, kayaking, canoeing and canoe slalom to provide the best facilities available to water sports enthusiasts.
Canoeing happens to be the 5th biggest Olympic event. Over the past four years, J&K has bagged as many as 84 medals out of 200 appearances at the national level.
New sports policy
In February this year, the Board of Directors (BOD), led by J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, approved the rollout of the J&K Sports Policy 2022.
The new sports policy envisages promoting sport in the territory of the Union by developing sports infrastructure and encouraging sports people to excel in their respective games/sports. The policy aims for excellence by associating all the actors and by creating interministerial synergies for a composite development of sport.
The basic canons of sports policy are to “spot” – to identify talent and catch it young; ‘Engage’ – ensuring inclusive grassroots engagement in sports and games (Sports for All and Fitness for All); “Facilitate” – providing sports infrastructure, facilities, know-how and training; and “Recognize” – recognize achievements and contributions through awards and other employment.
The policy includes various annual awards like Excellence in Sport award for 10 sportsmen, J&K Khel Protsahana award for sports association and two veterans/experienced sportsmen/organizers or referees, Parshuram award for 5 best coaches in different disciplines .
To further motivate UT’s athletic talent, special cash prizes will be awarded to winners of the Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian Championships, World Cups, Youth Olympics , South Asian Games and World University Games/Championships.
In addition, winners of all recognized national competitions and national school games in various sports disciplines will receive specific scholarships from the Department of Youth and Sports Service.
In addition, particular emphasis has been placed on meeting the sporting needs of disabled athletes through sufficient infrastructure and training facilities to ensure their full participation in the various events. In addition, the policy provides for the annual recruitment of outstanding athletes reaching the podium/participating in recognized international and national competitions.
The expertise of exceptional players will also be used to give specialized training/coaching to aspiring players and athletes across UT. Thanks to inter-ministerial convergences, new job prospects will be opened up to young people in the fields of tourism, education and adventure/winter sports.
17 lakh youth participate in sports activities
In 2021, 17 lakh youngsters of J&K participated in different sports activities, which in itself is a record. This year, the government expects a huge increase in the number and around 35 lakh youths are likely to be enlisted for participating in different sports activities. During the 2020-21 year, J&K won 72 gold, 90 silver and 145 bronze medals in 14 sports disciplines.
The J&K government has made it its mission to instill sports culture in young people. The repeal of Section 370 led the people of J&K to believe that all activities that were suspended due to the outbreak of the Pakistan-sponsored insurgency in 1989-90 will be revived and the region’s pristine glory Himalayan will be restored.