Revamp of the sports sector in J&K – a plausible possibility?
By: Arka Chakraborty and Kasturi Guha
The J&K administration is making strides to improve the sports infrastructure of the Union Territory. Speaking of which, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha along with the MoS in PMO, Dr Jitendra Singh jointly laid the e-foundation stone of “Shri Arun Jaitley Memorial Sports Complex” at Hiranagar Jammu. The mega-sports complex, spread over 270 kanals of land, will be constructed in the area at an estimated cost of Rs.58.23 Crore. The project will be executed under the Prime Minister Development Package (PMDP).
In an interview with Greater Kashmir, Advisor to Lieutenant Governor J&K, Farooq Khan who is in charge of the sports departments in Lieutenant Governor Administration has said that J&K was set to witness an extensive transition in the UT’s sports development and sports activities. Following the relaxation in COVID-19 SOPs, sports activities have begun at the Inter-School level across J&K, as well as the groundwork for the buildout of new sports infrastructure has also started.
‘J&K to emerge as a powerhouse of sports in the entire country’
The Sports Complex at Hiranagar is one of the many projects that, according to the concerned officials, would reshape the sports scenario in the UT. Rupees 200 crore has been allocated for revamp of the sports sector in Jammu and Kashmir by the central government under the Prime Minister Development Package (PMDP), the majority of which is being used to construct national and international standard sports facilities for the aspiring sportspersons residing there. An international-level Water Sports Centre with international standard types of equipment is almost ready at Nehru Par Srinagar, whereas a similar centre would be developed in Jammu city too.
The government, as Mr. Farooq Khan assures, is well aware of the problems arising from the limitation of the sports community’s provisions as it’s just confined to the cities of Srinagar and Jammu. And henceforth, a plan has been laid out to set up stadiums and provide sports-related facilities across the UT for making the sports accessible to everyone. Every district will have an Indoor stadium as well as an Outdoor one, he said. Out of the total thirty-one projects that are currently underway, eight indoor stadiums are already functional. To ensure the regular and efficient maintenance of these centers, they will be owned and operated on a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) basis. The administration aims to take this access to quality sports facilities to the most basic level of administration i.e. the rural level. The Department of Youth Services and Sports is heavily involved in organizing sporting events across the villages of J&K as a part of the pre-Back to Village Jan Abhiyan campaign. The YSS will also identify the playgrounds in these villages and promises to work on them if necessary. It has also been promised that Rs. 20000 will be given to each Panchayat for buying quality sports equipment.
These efforts are to draw out and produce Olympic-level sportspersons, Mr. Khan said. A large number of coaches will be required to train the young sportspersons and the government plans to appoint at least five coaches trained in different fields in each facility. Previously, there was no strict structure regarding the administration of the existing centers and the coaches often used to find themselves in managerial duties. Now, the government promises to appoint capable people to handle the management while the coaches will be engaged in their actual work. Past sportspersons currently employed in various government departments under the ‘outstanding sportsperson’ quota will be employed in sports departments so that they can continue to contribute to the development of sports in their region. To prevent corruption, members of the Sports Council body are prohibited from being members of Sports Associations.
The government, Mr. Farooq Khan informs, is planning to focus on and popularize not only cricket and football but other sports as well, mostly shooting, archery, badminton, boxing, gymnastics, water sports and winter sports.
Prominent individuals are also stepping up to assist the government in its attempt at energizing the J&K sports environment. Ex-international level cricketer Suresh Raina has held meetings with the Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha and the DGP Dilbag Singh regarding his plans to promote sports in general and cricket in particular in the UT. He will set up a cricket academy at five schools each in both Jammu and the Valley to train young aspiring cricketers with a special focus on “identifying talented youngsters, particularly underprivileged kids.”
The government, therefore, is aiming to produce Olympic and Asian Games-level players by honing the skills of local players through massive infrastructural developments at all levels, manpower investment and administrative re-organization.
The grandiose infrastructural schemes of the government promise to completely remodel J&K’s sports sector, but there is another side to the story. Mr. Gulzar Ahmed, who is the organizer of the Wular Premier League (a cricket tournament in northern Kashmir), in a freewheeling chat with JKPI said that Kashmir is far away from being a powerhouse of sports in the entire country owing to its existing sports infrastructure. “The funding that J&K receives for sports sector development is more than enough, but the improper utilization of these funds bring a lot of problems,” said Mr. Gulzar.
The funds allocated to the JKCA (Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association) are mostly used to buy expensive kits for players in Srinagar and Jammu affiliated with the body. Some of the funds could be directed towards the much-needed maintenance and reform of playgrounds in the district and sub-district levels and to hold multiple tournaments throughout the year so that talented players can have a better chance of advancing their careers. The funds that have been provided by the Centre so far have not been adequately used to develop a proper system to identify talented players in an unbiased, merit-based manner. This often results in the selection of players based on recommendations. It is no wonder, therefore, as to why Mr. Gulzar referred to the allocation of Rs. 200 Crore under PMDP for the J&K sports sector remodeling as “Old wine in a new bottle.” “The games other than cricket and football are organized in Srinagar. The selection processes take place in Srinagar and Jammu for most of these games,” he added.
Mr. Shoib Ahmed, a cricketer, organizer, and umpire said: “The cricket tournaments being played at the village level are provided any financial or material assistance. We pay for the event out of our own pockets,” he said. He also said that talented players who are financially dependent are unable to afford expensive kits and hence fall behind.
There are barely any playgrounds in proper condition in the rural areas of J&K. Moreover, the selection process of JKCA takes place only once a year, which is not enough for all the players to exhibit their talent.
“If someone can’t perform for four overs, it does not mean that he is not talented,” Gulzar clarifies. As a result, players often have to go outside of the UT (which is an arduous and expensive process itself) to prove their mettle.
The avenues for training the budding cricketers are missing in the Rural areas. The situation is no different in the Urban areas. Gulzar opines that the problem lies in the approach towards recruiting coaches. “Local veteran players who have played at state and national levels have the qualification to train younger generations of players as they are aware of the challenges that come along with being an aspiring sportsperson from J&K. They are recruited mostly on a contractual basis and the meager salary that they receive disheartens most of them. Also, local coaches do not receive any proper training and mostly have to go outside the UT to do the same. On the other hand, the coaches from outside the UT, who have played at the international level, are paid handsomely, but they don’t have the same level of sincerity as that of local coaches.”
As far as initiating sports development in rural areas through the third phase of Back to Village programme (B2V-3) is concerned, the troubling gap between policy and implementation that plagues B2V, in general, is starting to show. Shoib informed that his village Wanigam Pattan has not received the Rs. 20000 promised by the scheme yet.
Women’s presence and participation in sports is, unfortunately, not taken seriously across India, and Jammu and Kashmir is no exception. Although women in Kashmir participate in indoor games, their presence in outdoor games is negligible. Advisor to the Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Farooq Khan, did not talk in detail about the issue in his recent interview. On being asked about the participation of women in sports, he cited lack of security along with the absence of female trainers, coaches, and suitable training facilities, equipment non-participation as one of the reasons for their nonparticipation.
The various new initiatives that the Centre and the UT governments are taking in order to revitalize the J&K sports sector is commendable. There are, however, some additional concerns that should be kept in mind, if any meaningful impact is to be generated:
(1) Taking a leaf from B2V, the government should contact block, sub-district and district-level organizers, players and other such people affiliated closely with the sports sector in a systematic manner in order to get a clear picture of their problems. In that way, a more effective policy based on public opinion regarding the rejuvenation of sports can be constructed and funds can be better directed and implemented, instead of a policy that in some cases may run into the danger of feeling unnecessary and top-down.
(2) There should be a centrally funded and manned strict invigilation system to monitor the activities of the state-level Sports Associations in order to prevent corruption in the selection process, among others.
(3) Local coaches, after being provided proper training by the government, have to be employed permanently as coaches in the sub-district, district and state-level training facilities and provided a stable and negotiable salary along with incentives. This will address the need for employing trainers in the Indoor and Outdoor facilities that are currently coming up in J&K.
(4) Aspiring young sportspersons at the village level should also be entitled to receiving some rudimentary training in the discipline of their interest. Basic physical training must be provided at this level.
(5) Part of the funds that have been allocated to build and maintain high-standard facilities in the district levels should also be directed at fixing and maintaining playgrounds befitting young sportspersons and constructing new ones as well.
(6) Sincere and careful monitoring must be done by the government to ensure the implementation of the policies already in motion.
(7) Funds must be provided to organize more tournaments across the UT (including district and sub-district levels) so that the talented sportspersons have a greater chance at showcasing their talent and do not have to travel outside the UT to do so.
(8) Selections into state teams should not be conducted in such a way that poor but talented sportspersons have to travel to and stay in Srinagar or Jammu to appear for the trials. If possible, final trials should also be conducted at district levels or the aspirants qualifying for the final trials in Srinagar and Jammu should be given money so that they can afford to travel and stay in the cities.
(9) Women as sportspersons have to be given an equal chance if a truly holistic development of the sports, sector is to be achieved. The stigma attached to women pursuing indoor and outdoor sports as a career has to be addressed immediately and the government must play a key role in creating adequate awareness.
(10) The professional players of the UT should be given a chance to showcase their talent in Cricket and Football Leagues & Competitions like Indian Premier League and Indian Super League etc.
There is no denying the fact that Jammu and Kashmir suffers from a lack of proper infrastructure, training, equipment, funds and merit-based selection structure when it comes to sports. The government has successfully identified most of the issues and has begun its work accordingly in addressing the same. As demonstrated above, however, some fundamental areas of concern need to be brought into the administration’s attention if the generous funds allocated for sports sector revamp are to make the desired impact of producing Olympic-level sportspersons. An international standard Sports Complex, although a grand and necessary effort on the part of the government, is located outside the reach of underprivileged sportspersons in far-flung villages who cannot even afford their own kits and, therefore, won’t be nearly enough to effect an all-round, equitable development. Only a sincere work ethic, as Mr. Gulzar rightly points out, can make this possible.
The government has made a lot of promises with regard to the development and improvement of sports infrastructure in Jammu and Kashmir. Whether these promises will ever reach their logical conclusion? We will let the time decide.