‘Stone-pelter’ footballer volunteers Soccer training to 200 girls

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Srinagar

The girl who moved to the front pages of the newspapers during 2017 summer, when student protests erupted across Kashmir, for throwing stones on police is emerging into a spokesperson of female football in Jammu and Kashmir. On Tuesday when Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh met the J&K CM’s Football team, she was the lone speaker to talk about the “pathetic” sports infrastructure in Kashmir.

Afshan Ashiq talked about the state of infrastructure and the sportspersons desire to excel. She avoided any politics and said the Union Home Minister knew her but did not talk about her stone pelting incident. As Captain of the J&K CM’s football team, she was part of the 22-member team that spent almost half an hour Rajnath. The team was in Delhi to participate in Indian Women’s League.

After talking to Afshan, Home Minister rang up Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. He told her that she must flag the grey areas in the infrastructure that could be tackled. “You see to it which part we must do and which part the Jammu and Kashmir government will take care of,” sources informed about the brief talk.

(KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

Afshan Ashiq’s stone-pelting photograph got her noticed at different levels but the fact is that she was in the game already. Her interactions with the state sports system were almost a year old and it had taken place during summer 2016 when, during the strike and curfew hours, she would spend time in practice in the Bakhshi Stadium, sources in the government said.

“They were two girls Afhsan and Nadiya. When the entire situation was tense and people would try to stay away from roads, these two girls were fighting routine stereotyping and coming for football practice to the stadium where we noticed them,” an official of the J&K Sports Council said. “We talked to them, gave them kits which they were seeking and it gradually swelled the number. That was a major shift in the sports scene.”

It was after the 2016 summer that Afshan was sent to the National Institute of Sports in Patiala for two months crash course. She later spent almost half of the year in Bombay Football Club, sources said. “That stone pelting photograph just got her noticed but the fact is that we knew her and helped her grow much earlier,” sources in the sports department said. It was only after those training, she started helping other girls to learn the game by coaching them. “There are almost 200 girls in Srinagar city alone who are now playing football on regular basis.”

Now as Captain of J&K Chief Minister’s football team, Afshan is part of the 24 member team that has almost six players from other states: three each from Jharkhand and Punjab. The team has a manager from Ladakh and its coach is a Sikh. Players belong to all the three regions.

But the real change in Afshan’s career was only after she threw the stone. Regardless of the reasons that led her to throw the stones, her first meeting took place with the Chief Minister. Soon, the media started writing about her. A Delhi newspaper flew its correspondent who was briefed by the government on her status and then she was pushed to a new career trajectory. Even one Bollywood producer is planning a film on her!

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