The infinite magic of Sports

Dr Ashok Bhan
Some years back popular adhesive Quick Fix used the hilarious punch line “It joins everything except broken hearts”. On display on a pleasant sunny evening in the winter capital, the other day, was a remarkable adhesive that can “join the broken hearts”. This “adhesive” can change the narrative and transform the youth to work for nation building.
The 14th edition of the J&K State Wu-Shu Championship had brought together 1100 and odd players and coaches from 20 districts of the State including those from far off Leh, Kargil, Kupwara, Bandipora and Doda. The enthusiasm of players, girls and boys, many of whom were under 10 years, was remarkable. The radiance on their faces and the twinkle in their eyes said it all. They were celebrating the spirit of competition, the camaraderie, the thrill of triumph and above all an opportunity to display their talents. It was a magnificent sight of harmony and unity in diversity. The boundless power of Sports in integrating youth from diverse backgrounds was in full view.
About two decades back similar magic was witnessed when in 1998 Jammu and Kashmir Police launched a football tournament in Bakhshi Stadium, Srinagar in memory of martyred Inspector Mushtaq Ahmed Baba. Despite lurking fear of terrorists disrupting the event, Kashmiri’s love for football, made it a popular event and year after year it was held without any incident.  Hundreds of 2 and 3-wheelers would fill the parking space around the stadium. The crowds would display a love-hate relation with the local Police, cheering them when pitted against teams from Para-Military forces and vociferously jeering them when playing against a local club. It did not matter as long as their pent up feelings found a peaceful and healthy expression. The event has now become an integral part of the sports calendar in the valley.
This football tournament was the first serious attempt in the valley to resume sports activity. With its success a number of more events, including annual events in the Dal Lake, South Kashmir Sports Festival and a series of similar initiatives were taken in hand by J&K Police and later by Sports Council and its affiliates. It appears that we have over the years moved on to another level in harnessing the power of Sports.
It is interesting to note that in the International Wu-Shu Championship held in Armenia in April 2017, J&K players coached by former International Kuldeep Handoo contributed 6 medals to the Indian tally of 16. What a feat? Jammu’s Sunil Dev Singh and Srinagar’s Aijaz Hussain won Gold medals, Angmo from Leh and Pankaj Raina won silver and two Kashmiri girls Jabeena Akhtar and Shabeena won a bronze each. All the regions of the state together brought glory to the country.
Jammu and Kashmir has produced top footballers like Ishfaq Ahmed and Mehrajjudin Wadoo, cricketers Parvez Rasool and Mithun Manhas, shooter Chain Singh, mountaineer Sumaiya Kousar, gymnastics coach Krupali Singh, sports administrator Ranjeet Kalra and scores of sportspersons in various disciplines. We have the talent. It needs to be nurtured to flower and fructify. A new narrative is in the air for the talented youth of the state.
A casual glance at the exchanges in the social media should awaken us to the need for strengthening inter-region (read inter-community) harmony for the larger good of the state. Nothing can help achieve this better than through sports and cultural exchanges between different regions. Such exchanges have an infinite binding power. The efforts of theatre personality Balwant Thakur, santoor maestro Pt Bhajan Sopori and Abhay Rustum and top singers like Shamima Azad, Gulzar Ganai, and Kailash Mehra have helped bring communities nearer. We must applaud their effort and provide all support and encouragement to them and a whole generation of budding artists to promote harmony and integration.
Most of the players representing Badgam district in the recent Wu-Shu Championship were from village Soibug, the native place of the infamous Hizbul Mujahideen Chief Syed Salauddin. One enthusiastic coach in the village can make such a difference! Interesting stories have appeared in the media of sportspersons changing the narrative in the strife torn state. Women cricketers in the valley were seen stumping the stereotypes and pitching for gender equality when 13 teams from across the state, including one from Leh, participated in the T20 women championship held in Srinagar. Love for sports and peace compelled strayed ace footballer Majid Khan to surrender before security forces to pursue his passion and make a name.   Footballer Afshan Ashiq hates violence and proved that the solitary incident of stone pelting was an aberration. Her story may soon form theme of a Bollywood film. The magic is there in abundance for everyone to see.
The menace of drugs has hit our state in a big way. If not checked it will destroy a generation of youth and the youth bulge may become a liability. There are some laudable efforts, particularly by J&K Police, in organizing awareness as well as de-addiction programs. While such measures need to be upgraded simultaneously these misguided youth have to be provided an interesting alternative to prevent a relapse. A network of sports clubs throughout the state need to be established to enhance and harness the power of youth of the state.
Sports as a movement can make a dramatic turn in the lives of youth of the state. This can open unlimited avenues for the youth of the State to win laurels at the national and international levels. We must invest in these activities as they will bring rich dividends. Probity in spending and fairness and impartiality in selections must remain the hallmark of our sports policy. We must produce sportspersons who can become role models for the youth of the state.
It is gratifying that the State Sports Council, with the Chief Minister and the Minister for Sports at the helm, have chosen to provide impetus to sports in the state. The imaginative DYSS Sheikh Fayaz, the energetic secretary of the Council Waheed Rehman Para and affiliated associations are now actively pursuing programs aimed at promoting Sports activities. There is some evidence of the Sports Council taking up the challenge of popularizing various sports and about to launch a major initiative to channelize the abundant energies of youth in a positive direction.  Let this turn into a mission mode project to harness the magic of sports in bringing peace and harmony in the state.
(The author is former Director General of Police)