Losing Track

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From last thirteen years, Kashmir has produced cyclists of national and international repute but the apathy of J&K’s State Sports Council and lack of infrastructure has forced many to opt out of the sport by making voluntarily retirements, Umer Beigh reports.

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The second leg of Tour-de-India held in Srinagar last year. Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Every year, scores of aspiring cycling enthusiasts from schools and colleges participate in cycling events held at various levels in Jammu and Kashmir. Although cycling is considered one of the most popular games globally, the sport has seen least development in the state in the last two decades.

Despite the state having a huge potential of promoting cycling as a sport with natural mountain tracks and cool atmosphere, the state doesn’t even have proper coaches who can train cyclists to compete in global competitions.

Most of senior cyclists who represented J&K for more than 12 years have either left or are about to make voluntarily retirement. They blame the state council’s policy towards the sport for their decision.

Cycling is managed by J&K Cycling Association, the only platform in the state which has around 150 cyclists associated with it. Rafiq Ahmad, an aspiring cyclist from old Srinagar city, says, “The newcomers get disappointed when they look at the scope of cycling in the state.”

Ghulam Rasool Kawa, 30, who hails from Bagh-i-Mehtab area of Srinagar, is the most experienced cyclist of the state. He has participated in nearly 12 international and national events in his thirteen year long career.

“When I participated in inter-college cycling championship for the first time, no one had any concept about how to get training and become a professional cyclist,” he says. “I used to paddle my cycle for 6-7 hours daily.”

Belonging to a family with modest income, Rasool says he is yet to make a final decision about his career. “No one has sacrificed as much as I did in order to keep my passion alive. But despite doing my best, my career is at stake,” he says.

Rasool is the only person in the state who has done a diploma in sports coaching (NSNIC) from Patiala. Presently, he works at New Convent School in Srinagar as a physical trainer.

The lack of interest among the aspiring cyclists in the state is mostly driven by crippling infrastructure. The state’s cycling association only provides expenses for accommodation, travel and refreshments while the cyclists have to purchase their own equipment to participate in different competitions. A normal racing cycle costs around Rs 1.60 lakh and its prices varies depending upon the type of cycles that are used in the races.

It is not only the lack of infrastructure which has affected the sport in Kashmir valley. Few years ago, Jammu and Kashmir Cycling Association had two units working in Jammu and Kashmir provinces of the state. The cyclists from the valley had accused the Jammu based J&K Cycling Association of discrimination. They had alleged that the association only selected cyclists from Jammu and Srinagar cities for participation in various events while the cyclists from other areas of the state were ignored.

The tussle over the legitimacy of the two units began in November 2011 and the union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports had to intervene which decided that the Jammu-based J&K Cycling Association should govern the activities of cycling in the state while the Kashmir-based unit was declared illegitimate.

Riyaz Ahmad Wani, who was acting as Joint Secretary of Kashmir-based unit and also served as a voluntary coach, now works in private sector. He left cycling after being involved in the sport for nearly eighteen years. “I always wanted to promote cycling in Kashmir but it was always dominated by Jammu unit,” he says.

Wani recalls that he was in early twenties when he participated in his first national event. “Since then, I participated in almost twenty nationals representing the state as a cyclist and a coach,” he says.

Cycling has three major disciplines of race tracks: Road cycling, Mountain Biking and Velodromes. With a mountainous landscape, Kashmir has a huge potential of Mountain Biking. Last year, J&K, for the first time, hosted an international cycling event where nearly 120 cyclists of international repute participated. The event, the second stage of ‘Tour de India’ international cycling race, was held in December.

The first leg of the event was organized in Mumbai while the third was organized in Greater Noida. “We have some issues about cycling. For many years, the state association hasn’t done much work to promote cycling,” J&K State Sports Council Secretary, Daleep Thusoo, says. About last year’s ‘Tour de India’ event, Daleep says, “We had no option but to get people from Mumbai to organize the race in J&K.”

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