With an aim to develop sports at grassroots level the Union Ministry for Youth Affairs and Sports has launched a scheme under the name and style “Khelo India” few years back. The competitions in various games and sports are now conducted regularly in different states under this banner. The scheme has helped to hunt the hidden talent as it gives opportunity to hitherto unknown athletes to excel in their liked sports. It has benefitted thousands of sportsmen/women of the country.
With the huge success of Khelo India the Union Sports Ministry initiated Khelo India University Sports this year under the able guidance of Shri Kiren Rijiju, Union Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports. Shri Rijiju is perhaps the first Sports Minister who brought organised sports to every street of the country. It is undoubtedly his cherished desire to give chance to Indian youth to play sports at highest level. Appreciably he himself monitors the Khelo India program and moves from state to state to implement the scheme in a better way. His efforts to this direction are highly laudable.
Keeping in view the importance of winter games in Himalayan states Mr. Rijiju was kind enough to include winter games in his Khelo India program this winter. The first edition of winter games was held at Gulmarg in the first week of March. In fact proposal for holding the Khelo India in winter games was conceived by the Winter Games Association of J&K and was submitted to the Union Ministry through J&K Sports Council. Initially a meeting convened by Secretary to Govt of India Youth Affairs and Sports, was among others attended by Secretary Youth Services and Sports, J&K Govt, Secretary J&K Sports Council, President Winter Games Association of J&K and other officers of the Union Ministry. Since the J&K delegates could not convince the Union Secretary the proposal was dropped. Fortunately Mr. Rijiju, on his visit to Jammu, had declared that winter games will be conducted at Gulmarg in winter and his statement later helped to reconsider our proposal. This writer, as General Secretary of Winter Games Association of J&K, was asked to submit the revised Detailed Project Report for reconsideration of the Govt of India. With the efforts of Secretary J&K Sports Council, Dr. Naseem Javiad Chowdhary and liberal attitude of Sport,s Minister the proposal was finally approved and grants for this purpose were tripled than the projected. In this way the Khelo India Winter Games came into being.
Since the time for holding this biggest ever snow sports event was left short everybody connected to winter sports and the officials of Sports Council were asked to gear up and accelerate their efforts to make this maiden extravaganza event a grand success. Several meetings were held by Sports Council and Winter Games Association in Srinagar and Gulmarg. Initially there was lot of confusion, tension and miscommunication among the officials of Association and Sports Council though different Committees and sub-committees were constituted. However Dr Naseem managed to tackle all the situations. He knew how to extract best things from the concerned officials. Being noble and energetic everybody cooperated with him. His hard work finally proved fruitful. The WGAJK constituted Technical Committee with Maj Gen. Tarun Kumar Aich of High altitude Warfare School as its Chairman.
Nearly 950 athletes from all over the country took part. Not only winter sports but some other summer sports were also included in the event. Besides regular snow sports, the Ski-Mountaineering, Snow Shoeing, Ice Skating, Ice stock, Rugby and Baseball events were conducted in this mega event. The Winter Games Association of J&K fielded the largest contingent of nearly 450 athletes. In different winter games, competitions were held in Alpine Skiing, Nordic Skiing, Snowboarding, Skidoo race, Skibob race, Snow Derby and Sledging. The competitions were conducted among all age groups and categories. There were as many as 24 events in Snow sports only. The J&K bagged a rich haul of 12 Gold, 14 Silver and 13 bronze medals and stood at top ranking. The Overall team Championship trophy for Senior men was lifted by HAWS.
To the luck of athletes the games survived the dreaded coronavirus. After holding the Inaugural ceremony there was apprehension that the event may be cancelled next day. All the participants and organisers were disappointed. Due to heavy snowfall in the upper reaches the snow sports were put to halt for half a day on 8th March, while the Ice Stock events could be held in the morning in the safe Ice Skating Rink. In the afternoon the weather improved and the competitions in children events were held at Gulmarg bowl smoothly. These events encouraged the organisers and from 9th the major competing events were held at Kongdori.
On 6th March the Winter Games Association of J&K conducted a breathtaking Night Ski demonstration in honour of the Sports Minister, Director General Sports Authority of India and other dignitaries. Entire Highlands and 185 Ski Slopes were decorated by wooden torches (Mashalis) and nearly 100 skiers took part in this scintillating demonstration. The demonstration fascinated all the invited guests who had no words to express their joy and appreciation for the beauty of Gulmarg. In falling snow the guests preferred to watch the demonstration in open outside the hotel. Equally on 7th March a grand opening ceremony was conducted. The order of events contained March Past by athletes; flag unfurling, releasing of Souvenir, pledge taking, presentation of mementos, addresses and declaring the Khelo India open by the Chief Guest. The cultural program added color to the inaugural ceremony. A demonstration of skiing by Children on Baby slope was also organized by Winter Games Association of J&K on the occasion amongst large gathering of media persons. The Souvenir edited by this writer contained messages from high dignitaries, some informative articles and achievements of Winter Games Association.
In his address the Minister, Shri Rijiju declared that a School of Excellence for Winter Sports will be set up at Gulmarg for training Indian athletes soon. Sports Council has been advised to submit the DPR for this purpose. Meanwhile, there is need to transfer the dilapidated GDA dormitory for the proposed School. There is also need to homologate slopes at Kongdori, procure enough equipment, engage certified and experienced coaches and to have MOU with foreign Ski Schools particularly from Australia and Europe. The Sports Council need to engage experts to prepare the DPR for this purpose
From Tourism point of view this mega event helped the Union Territory to highlight the potential of winter tourism in Kashmir as well. The event received wide coverage in print and electronic media which no other winter festival could do earlier. The publicity given by Tourism Deptt at local and national level is laudable.
The event became so dearer to many that some of the Govt Departments claimed that the event is being organized by them and tried to sideline the main organers, the Sports Council and Winter Games Association. The J&K Cable Car Corporation, J&K Youth Services and sports Deptt, Tourism Deptt, JIM & WS, and HAWS virtually contributed their bit to make the event a grand success and deserve all applauds from winter sports enthusiasts.
Notably in winter sports J&K has many firsts at its credit. The first National Ski Championship was held here in 1986, first National Winter Games was held in 1998 and now it was time for first Khelo India Winter Games. Kashmir has in fact played a vital role in promoting winter sports in the country but unfortunately we could not get our slopes certified by International Ski Federation while as, lesser known Auli in Uttrakhand has got its slopes certified and they are now eligible to host any international level championships.
Author is Director Adventure Call Tour and travels and General secretary WGAJK & ATOAK