He uses flip-flops instead of pads on his hands to practice Taekwondo. The winner of 15 gold medals Danish Manzoor manages to stay relevant in an indifferent system. Shakir Mir reports
He is the only young participant from J&K state to have fared fourth in all India level Taekwondo tournament. He is recipient of 15 gold medals. Having witnessed a mercurial rise during the 5-years of his illustrious career, 19-year-old Danish Manzoor now finds himself at the receiving end of J&K State Sports Council (SSC), or so he says.
Hailing from the north Kashmir town of Baramulla, Danish was a school student when Taekwondo piqued interest in him. Like many other sports enthusiasts of his age, he too signed up with the district association under the tutelage of Ashfaq Ahmad Wani, his coach, whom he holds in great admiration.
In a matter of days, Wani discovered an “extra-ordinary” zeal in him. Soon Danish began outperforming his peers at training sessions. The tremendous efforts he invested impressed his coach so much that he would assign separate timings for him. “He was so kind to me during practice that it is hard to tell if he is a teacher or a friend,” Danish says.
Ever since he was first fielded in 2011 in the Taekwondo tournaments, Danish had no looking back. Until now! In 2011, he participated in State-level Federation Games where he bagged gold and so he did, once again, in the same year when north India national was held in Srinagar.
He had participated under 45 kg category. A year later, in 2012, State games kicked off again but unfortunately, this time, Danish couldn’t compete owning to muscle pull and calf muscle injury.
In 2013, hard work ushered him into what he calls his “golden era”. In a meteoric ascent, he became a serial gold medalist bagging laurels in tournaments like Open Kashmir, Gulmarg Cup, State games and District Gold. Despite rudimentary training, he took part in all India national games held in Pondicherry and qualified 4th becoming the first Kashmiri ever to achieve the feat.
In 2014, he qualified the trials for School Games Federation of India, but nationals eluded him as his exams were imminent. Same year, he became Open Kashmir Gold medalist once again but later had to concede defeat in the national games owning to lack of stamina. In his district, he has been five times gold medalist since 2012. State-wise he has been 4 times gold medalist throughout 2013 – when he won twice – 2014 and 2015.
“To develop stamina I was supposed to have the government support,” he says.
Danish practiced at Baramulla Taekwondo Academy at Rangwara. Realizing his sheer conviction, his coach Ashfaq would train him assiduously, often at the expense of his own brother, who too is a Taekwondo enthusiast.
“Whenever my coach got a whiff that any tournament was taking place, I was his first preference,” Danish says.
In years that followed, he practiced with perseverance even though he was severely short of equipments. “I used to wear flip-flops on my hands instead of the pads that I was supposed to,” he says. In absence of requisite body gear, Danish and his colleagues had really tough time to go through.
When he went to the concerned authorities with the request for Taekwondo mats, they told him that they had already provided some in 1992. “We said to them,” he recalls in retrospect, “we weren’t even born in 1992. Where are we going to find those mats today?”
In 2010, he says, Srinagar was provided Judo and Taekwondo mats. “No mats were send to Baramulla,” he says. “Our district association has been helpful to us but assistance from SSC has been thus far unforthcoming.”
Danish sees this scenario resulting in a “massive loss” in terms of young talent. “People abandon this field because they don’t see future there,” he says.
When Kashmir Life contacted Secretary State Sports Council Javed Shah, he washed his hands off the issue saying that it was duty of the respective associations to furnish the equipments. “We have been funding them,” he says. “Besides, lots of our equipments were damaged during floods last year.”
Expressing pity at “wastage of talent” in Kashmir, a Delhi-based Taekwondo coach Anurag Kapoor had once advised Danish to compete from their state. “They saw that lack of opportunities and infrastructure had been taking toll on my ambitions,” he says, lowering his head in disbelief.
Training in absence of proper infrastructure did not come without costs. When Danish participated in all India nationals, he would often skid on the friction less mats as a result of which his score diminished. Having practiced all these years on the rough surface; his endurance failed him when he played matches on the state-of-the-art mats put to use at the tournament.
Despite the short-coming, he fared fourth. “Anurag sir wondered why I hadn’t practiced at home,” he says. “It was difficult for me to explain to him how we lacked in terms of infrastructure.”
“My footwork was not good. My soles had become stiff which is why I couldn’t linger on those mats for longer,” he says.
Danish believes that if J&K qualifies for SAI, the state will get renowned international coaches to train the players. “When they will impart training, it will enhance our skills,” he says. “If we got to know about game plan of Korea, imagine where we would reach?” he asks. “We are currently following the regional game plan.”
He says that when players in Kashmir would be taught right techniques, right application of footwork, counters and kicks, nobody can stop them from qualifying for international tournaments.
Another issue nagging them is the question of sponsorship. “Currently playing for a national tournament costs us up to Rs 15,000,” he says.
In face of unforthcoming government assistance, Danish and his ilk are literally forced to beg their families. “Every time our family is not going to be in financially stable condition,” he says.
“There are ebbs and flows,” he says. In other states, when players qualify the state level games, they are sponsored to excel further for playing at national level. Why aren’t players from this state sponsored for nationals?”
When they approached State Sports Council for help, they were let down. “They would say their department was not linked to it,” he says.
However, Shah dismisses this allegation in short order. “We don’t sponsor,” he says. “There are advertisements which come in newspaper. They have a screening committee which examines the candidates and passes them on the basis of merit.”
In Kashmir, he alleges, that there is apparently more priority to Wushu – a form of martial arts – which is not recognized by the Olympic Federation while as for Taekwondo which is, government has been exhibiting inattention.
Danish also claims that Kashmir did not have coaches from Sports Authority of India or SAI. “Jammu has them but we don’t.”
He laments the alleged ineptitude on part of government to send coaches to National Institute of Sports so that they come out as “good” coaches. “It would have ensured that we get the quality training,” he says.
“It could have translated into players from Kashmir getting qualified for the SAI.”
What does the SSC do then? If players like Danish are to be believed, SSC has misplaced priorities – a charge it vehemently denies. “That’s wrong,” Shah says. “We recently signed a MoU with the SAI and currently we are having two centers in Jammu and Srinagar where specialized training is being imparted to players,” he says. Shah refuted allegations that it was prioritizing other games over Taekwondo. “For every game we pay equitable attention.”
Apparently, the one is Jammu is a fulltime operational Centre while Srinagar’s is part time operational. Asked if Taekwondo training is also imparted in those centers, Shah says: “We are planning to introduce it.”
“Enormous coverage is lent when Cricket leagues are played,” Danish says. “Many of these leagues are not even authorized. They are not linked to the BCCI or J&K Cricket Council etc. Still every people are ready to sponsor it.”
Danish says that Kashmir has better Taekwondo coaches but what it miserably lacks awareness and infrastructure. “We also have dream to go for Olympics,” he says. If only the assistance could come, we may as well realize them.”