For 70 years, sportspersons in Jammu and Kashmir were like a rudderless ship. Despite having the talent to compete at any level they were provided with limited opportunities to prove their mettle. However, the abrogation of Article 370 -- a temporary provision in the Constitution on August 5, 2019 -- opened up a new world for the sportsmen and women in the Himalayan region.
The decision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led regime to abrogate J&K's so-called special status and turn it into a Union Territory has proven to be a game changer as the government during the past three years has ensured that J&K youth excel in every sphere of life, including sports.
Numerous steps have been taken to create world-class sports infrastructure in J&K. New policies have been introduced to make J&K a powerhouse in sports. All the possible support is being extended to the local sportspersons who strive hard to make UT and the nation proud in different sports disciplines. The sports activities are being conducted throughout the year while infrastructure work is going on a massive scale. The focus is not merely on activities like Cricket and Football but equal importance is being given to popular activities like Volleyball, Kho-Kho, Kabaddi, Water and Winter Sports which were ignored in the past.
As the J&K gears up to celebrate the third anniversary of the scrapping of Article 370, the Union Territory administration can proudly claim that it has revamped the sports infrastructure and has brought ground-breaking change to the sports arena of the Himalayan region.
A talented Kashmiri skier, Arif Khan, carried India's National Flag at the opening ceremony of Winter Olympics in Beijing in February this year. The 31-year-old Arif was the lone Indian competitor at the games, having qualified in Slalom and Giant Slalom events. He was the first Indian to secure qualification in two events of the same edition of the games.
A 22-year old boy from Jammu and SunrisersHyderabad pacer Umran Malik, who made a name for himself with his fast pace that often crossed the 150kmph mark, was included in the Indian team and he made his international debut against Ireland earlier this year.
Union Sports Ministry provides liberal funding
The Union Sports Ministry during the past three years has invested Rs 506.13 crore in 77 infrastructure projects under the Khelo India Scheme in the Himalayan region.
Twenty four sports academies were accredited and 199 'Khelo India' Centres (district level) and 11 KheloIndia State Centres of Excellence were approved under the Khelo India Scheme in J&K and Ladakh.
In addition, under the 'Enhancement of Sports Facilities at J&K' (PMDP) programme of the government, 30 sports infrastructure projects, as well as sports equipment, were sanctioned in the UTs of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh amounting to Rs 273.85 crore.
A multi-sports facility centre dedicated to former Union Minister late Arun Jaitley is coming up at Hira Nagar in Jammu region. The centre is coming up at an allocated cost of Rs 200 crore fund under the PMDP scheme for sports structure revamp.
The centre of excellence for the Winter Games is being set up at a world-famous ski resort at Gulmarg in North Kashmir to promote winter sports in the Valley.
In a major departure from the past, J&K administration is focusing on quality sports facilities and training not only in Srinagar and Jammu cities but across all the 20 districts of Jammu and Kashmir. Every district is equipped with top-level indoor and outdoor stadiums.
The administration is also working to prepare the youth of J&K for big events like the Asian Games and Olympics. Earlier J&K had no requisite infrastructure, training and coaches for bigger international events. During the past three years, coaches have been hired to train the players so that they can develop the skills to compete at national and international levels.
Revival of water sports
In April this year, the first-ever Open Kayaking and Canoeing Marathon Race organised by J&K Sports Council was held in river Jhelum in Srinagar. Prior to August 5, 2019 -- when the Centre announced its decision to abrogate J&K's special status and divided it into two Union Territories -- organising such an event was impossible as the requisite infrastructure was not in place. During the past three years, sports infrastructure has been developed to hold such activities.
The availability of natural water resources in J&K can turn the Union Territory into the most preferred water sports destination. Last year water sports were started in Ranjit Sagar dam and this year the Jhelum, Manasbal, Nigeen and Wular are all set to host water sports events.
The rowing activity reminiscent of the Shikara regattas that used to be the key feature of the water sports competitions in the halcyon days the 1950s through 1980s on the Dal Lake in Srinagar is likely to be resumed.
The Union Ministry of Sports has sanctioned two Water Sports Centres for J&K, one in Jammu and another in Srinagar. The main aim is to build Olympic-standard facilities and create the talent for participation in the next Olympic Games.
Water sports were largely neglected by the previous ruling regimes for decades. However, there have been remarkable achievements in the past three years. The J&K Government has procured equipment worth Rs 6 crore for rowing, kayaking and Canoeing and canoe slalom to provide the best available facility to the water sports enthusiasts.
Kayaking canoeing happens to be the 5th largest Olympic event. In the last four years, J&K has bagged as many as 84 medals from 200 participations at the National level.
New Sports Policy
In February this year, the Administrative Council (AC), headed by J&K Lieutenant Governor, Manoj Sinha, approved the rollout of the J&K Sports Policy 2022.
The New Sports Policy envisages promoting sports in the Union Territory by developing sports infrastructure and incentivizing sportspersons to excel in their respective games/sport. The policy strives to achieve excellence by involving all the stakeholders and establishing inter-departmental synergies for composite development of sports.
The basic canons of the Sports Policy are to 'Scout' - identify talent and catch them young; 'Engage' - ensure grassroots inclusive engagement in sports & games (Sports for All & Fitness for All); 'Facilitate' - provide sports infrastructure, facilities, know-how, and training; and 'Recognize' - acknowledge the achievements and contributions through awards and further employment.
The policy incorporates various annual awards like Award for Excellence in Sports for 10 sportspersons, J&K Khel Protsahana Award for Sports Association, and two veterans/ experienced sportspersons/ organisers or referees, Parshuram Award for 5 best Coaches in different disciplines.
To further motivate UT's sporting talent special cash awards will be given to the winners in Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian Championship, World Cups, Youth Olympic Games, South Asian Games, and World University Games/ Championships.
Further, the winners in all recognised national competitions and national school games in various sports disciplines will be granted specified scholarships from the Directorate of Youth Service & Sports.
Moreover, special emphasis has been laid to meet the sporting needs of the specially-abled sportspersons through sufficient infrastructure and training facilities to ensure their full participation in various events. Furthermore, the Policy provides for the annual recruitment of outstanding sportspersons achieving podium finish/ participation in recognized international and national competitions.
The expertise of outstanding players will also be utilised to impart specialised training/ coaching to budding players and athletes across the UT. Through inter-departmental convergences, new vistas of employment will be opened for youth in the fields of tourism, education, and adventure/winter sports.
17 lakh youth participate in sports activities
In 2021, 17 lakh youth from J&K participated in different sports activities which in itself is a record. This year the government is expecting a huge increase in the numbers and around 35 lakh youth are likely to be roped in for participating in different sports activities. In the year 2020-21, J&K bagged 72 Gold, 90 Silver and 145 Bronze medals in 14 sports disciplines.
The J&K government has embarked on the mission to inculcate sports culture amongst the youth. The abrogation of Article 370 has led to J&K people believing that all the activities that were suspended due to the outbreak of Pakistan-sponsored insurgency in 1989-90 will be revived and the pristine glory of the Himalayan region will be restored.