Is new Kashmir becoming a national sports hub?

New Delhi, April 12: While inaugurating the first Water Sports Centre adopted by his Ministry in Kashmir last week, Union Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju announced that the Government of India was developing as many as 100 Khelo India Centres across the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. An amount of Rs 513 crore has been earmarked in the current years budget for promotion of sports in addition to the substantial financial assistance flowing from the Centre.

Rijiju said that J&K would soon have 100 Khelo India Centre and two special state of the art Khelo India national level Centres where youth would be trained by the coaches who have played at national level. Coaches from other parts of the country and even from foreign countries would be engaged for the two special centres coming up at the capital cities of Srinagar and Jammu.

Speaking after the well-attended inauguration of the Water Sports Centre at the iconic Nehru Park on the world-famous Dal Lake, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha said that there was no dearth of talent in Jammu and Kashmir where his administration was committed to hone the youth talent on all fronts.

“Since J&K is bestowed with enough water resources, we are committed to see a Water Sports Academy for Olympics in J&K”, Sinha said.

Secretary Jammu and Kashmir Sports Council Nuzhat Gul revealed to India Initiative that the Union Ministry of Sports was developing only one Water Sports Centre in each State and UT across the country. She said J&K had got the exceptional honour of getting two of such centres—one already operational at Ranjit Sagar Dam in Jammu and another inaugurated at the Dal Lake in Srinagar on Saturday. “It’s a coordinated endeavour of the Centre and the UT administration to build the Olympic-standard facilities and create the talent for participation in the next Olympic Games”, she said.

“Now only the Navy and J&K Sports Council in the country have this kind of facilities”, Gul added.

The Water Sport Centre at Nehru Park in Srinagar was established by the J&K Government in October 2020, keeping in view the natural water front both flat and wild across Jammu and Kashmir. Notwithstanding a large number of the water bodies, water sport was largely neglected by the previous ruling regimes for decades. However, there have been remarkable achievements in the last couple of years.

The J&K Government has procured equipment worth Rs 6.00 crore for rowing, kayaking and Canoeing and canoe slalom to provide the best available facility to the water sports enthusiasts with the aim to fetch medals in the Olympic Games and the Asian Games among other events.

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.

Parallel to a four-month-long street turmoil, in which about 70 persons got killed and thousands injured in the summer of 2016, the Government of India supported the water sports centre in Srinagar under Prime Minister’s Development Package (PMDP). Two Khelo India Centres of excellence were subsequently sanctioned and supported—one for rowing at Nehru Park in Srinagar and another for fencing at MA Stadium Jammu. The facility created at Nehru Park was adopted by the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and inaugurated today.

The Sports Authority of India (SAI) will be providing technical manpower and sports equipment for these two disciplines under Khelo India State Centre of excellence. It will strive for social change and provide excellent facilities to the trainee at the world standard level.

The rowing activity at the Centre is reminiscent of the Shikara regattas that used to be the key feature of the water sports competitions in the halcyon days 1950s through 1980s on the Dal Lake in Srinagar. Hundreds of thousands of the Kashmiris associated with sports, tourism, trade and the hospitality industry are now eagerly waiting for revival of all the activities suspended due to outbreak of militancy in 1989-90.

“We were thrilled to see pictures of another (Union) Minister Smriti Irani talking to the lotus stem (nadru) sellers on the Dal banks yesterday. It gives us hope of revival of tourism but the Government should focus more on preserving the Dal Lake and making the officers accountable for the funds received from the Centre and spent on the lake. The Government must retrieve Dal’s glory”, said Mukhtar Ahmad who sells fresh vegetables on his boat.

Famous film and television actress and Minister of Textiles and incharge Minister of Woman and Child Development, Smriti Irani was in town in connection with the first convocation of the Srinagar chapter of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). Her first visit to Kashmir in recent years came at a time when Srinagar has witnessed the first fashion show at Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) last week and the UT’s Department of Tourism is making preparations for another fashion show next week.

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–indianarrative/