“A career in basketball is next to impossible.”
“An indoor stadium like this is a fairy tale.”
This is what some of the players and the coach of the Jammu & Kashmir basketball team, which is participating in the 68th Senior Nationals at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai, tells anyone who asks about basketball in the State. Due to the political unrest in India’s northern-most state, sport has seldom been on the priority list. Yet, a handful of players and administrators are chasing a small dream.
Basketball was almost defunct in the State till 2015 with no single tournament in place, when a new set of administrators promised themselves to revive the sport. After laying the foundations, the association has taken baby steps to build a base and is now looking to surge ahead with newfound confidence and motivation.
Lacking in infrastructure
The senior coach of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in Jammu, Aman Sharma has brought in two teams (a men’s and a women’s) for the Senior Nationals and hopes the experience of participating in a national level tournament will go a long way in shaping the future of the energetic men and women.
“There are a lot of peculiarities in the sports scene in J&K. Sports is not a priority there. Of late, the government has realised that the main streaming of the youth can be done through sports. They have started promoting sports in a big way. Unfortunately, basketball is still not a popular sport because it needs some specific infrastructure which is not available at all. Except for Jammu and Srinagar, we do not have a basketball court anywhere in the state,” Aman said.
With just two courts, two coaches and one training centre, Aman said basketball still has a long way to go in the State. “With whatever little resources we have, we put in effort and train. We conducted a State championship in which we just had eight teams. In States like Tamil Nadu, a State championship is conducted in four zones with ten times more teams. We have a problem in putting up a single State team. In an age-group trial, no more than 20 people would turn up,” he explained.
Striving for level playing field
Aman clarifies that it is not due to the awareness. “There is a lot of awareness. We lack opportunities. J&K doesn’t have a profound sports policy wherein good players can be incentivised in a way. We do not have a single institutional team. But we still have been giving tough competitions to many teams in the senior level.
“We lost to Andhra today by just one point. We are like ‘a team from one town called Jammu competing against many States’. We are at different levels. There is no level playing field yet. We are training in adverse circumstances. We will not be able to go very far unless we have a system in place and that system is lacking today,” he added.
How much has the political unrest played a part in playing spoilsport? “A lot,” Aman quipped. “Players are even threatened by the separatists asking them not to participate in national tournaments. Separatists want to have their Kashmiri identity. However, the players do not feel threatened at all. That’s what sport can do to you. There are a lot of people who come out and participate when there is a shut down too,” he added.
Tough environment for basketball
For Aukif Khan, who is from the Kashmir valley, love for the sport drew him closer to the game. “In Srinagar there is no basketball. I play all alone. I am my trainer. I go to Jammu once a year and participate in a camp. When we had a total shutdown, all I could do is to sit home and exercise.
“I have been caught in stone pelting many times. I only think to run and save my life. That’s the only thing I can do. I go to Jammu before any tournament, if the situation is conducive, and then participate. I am proud that I have come so far,” Aukif said.
Abhileen Kour, the skipper of the J&K women’s team concurs with her counterpart and added that infrastructure is the need for the hour. “With just one SAI centre, we are pulling on. We fail in establishing a connect with the game due to this. We are improving step by step but we know where we stand in the national scene. No one funds our training. The love for basketball keeps us going and we have a tough task in sustaining it.
A return to Chennai evokes some happy memories for Aukif in such bleak times. “Life in basketball has come full circle for me. I participated in my first junior nationals in Chennai and I am back here as a senior player after many years. That’s a happy fact for me now,” he signed off.