In 1970’s and 1980’s the game of football in Kashmir seemed poised for greatness with great players like Abdul Majeed Kakroo at the peak of his career. Kakroo, who was the captain of the Indian Football team in 1980’s, had inspired a generation of youngsters towards the game and it had become a source of entertainment for the common people after toiling all day at work. Before Kakroo, players like Mohammed Yousuf Dar and Farooq Ahmad Bhat had drawn a lot of attention from the football fraternity
The accessibility of the game made it popular among the masses—all that was needed was a ball that they could chase in the many fields that dot the countryside. It was all building up to what is considered the golden period of football in Kashmir. Between 1976 and 1988, Kashmir hosted junior and senior nationals, the All India University Championship, and tournaments for the civil services and the police, in addition to the Federation Cup.
Then all of a sudden like every other activity, the game of football came to a standstill when militancy erupted in 1990. A generation of budding players had no way to continue to pursue their dream of becoming the next Kakroo. Playing international football like Kakroo was now a distant dream for a number of other talented players. The golden period of Kashmiri football was fading away to a bitter end.
With the hectic efforts of Nazir Ahmad Khan, then president of J&K Football Association (JKFA), the revival of the sport started from the mid 1990’s, albeit at slow pace. For the next decade or so, the football remained in revival mode and the efforts of Khan, who retired as DG Youth Service and Sports more than three decades back, were worth appreciating.
In 2004, Khan after remaining as JKFA president for almost two decades was replaced by Zamir Ahmad Thakur, who was serving as an incharge DFO in the Forest Department then. Thakur and his team carried forward the good work done by Khan in previous years and football once again gained popularity among common people in Kashmir. Holding of 62nd edition of Santosh Trophy from May 25 to June 15, 2008 in Jammu and Kashmir after a gap of three decades was a pinnacle moment in J&K Football.
With their hard work & dedication players like Mehraj-ud-Din Wadoo, Ishfaq Ahmad and Arun Malhotra had started to make their mark at national and international level in early 2000s. And these players became a source of inspiration for young footballers in J&K much like Kakroo, Dar and Bhat had some two decades back. Though 2008 onwards there were disturbances like 2010 and 2016 summer unrests and 2014 devastating deluge, the game of football kept on moving forward.
After the I-League and I-League 2 were launched, veteran sports administrator and former JKFA president Khan approached people to invest in a private team that aspired to play on these platforms. The artificial turf at the Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar became the hub of attraction for footballers as well as spectators.
However, at a time when football in Kashmir seemed poised for greatness once again, there was yet another shock that undid it all. From battling it out on the field, the football became a battlefield between JKFA office bearers led by Thakur and its rival group. From playgrounds, the game started to reach the court chambers with JKFA’s rival group accusing it of malpractices, corruption and other wrongdoings.
While incumbent JKFA office bearers whole focus in recent years has remained on remaining glued to the chair, the rival group by the name of ‘National & International Footballers Forum’ (NIFF) against the “irregularities and violations which have been done by the current JKFA regime.”
The court cases have been going on for a long time. In January 2021, a local court in Srinagar had restrained the JKFA from taking any policy decisions. In one of its statements in July 2020, the NIFF had alleged that the JKFA had become a “factory of lies and was issuing false statements on a daily basis to cover up their frauds, violations and unconstitutional workings.”
On the other hand the incumbent JKFA office bearers have termed the NIFF as “B team” of few JK Bank employees and State Football Academy. “This group tries to cover up the misappropriation of Sports Council funds under their command. We want to inform the members and the football players of the UT not to fall prey to these disgruntled people,” the JKFA in its counter allegation said.
But in between allegations, counter allegations and court cases, it is the game of football which is suffering immensely. Hundreds of young boys in Kashmir, who had high hopes of making football as careers are at cross-roads. Thousands of others who used to play football to channelize their energy in positive development are being deprived of their right due to the greed of a vested group of football administrators, who have made football its fiefdom. Thousands of spectators who used to throng football fields across the Valley are dejected.
The elections to elect new office bearers have already been delayed for a long time. Now on the orders of a local court J&K Sports Council had been asked to form an adhoc body before the conduct of elections for the office bearers of the JKFA. However, on Monday, the High Court set aside a trial court’s order regarding the constitution of an adhoc committee to facilitate the conduct of election to the JKFA.
It is no secret that the incumbent Secretary Sports Council has no idea about the game of football as she has come from a different field of golf, where her contributions are immense. The court or the administration must take the services of competent, honest and veteran sports administrators like N A Khan to hold free and fair elections to elect new office bearers of the JKFA.
There is no doubt that the Union Territory government led by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha is trying its best to promote sports culture in J&K. It is the right time that the administration takes a keen interest in the affairs of JKFA as football is the most popular game in Kashmir. There is also a need to hold a probe into the alleged wrongdoings of the JKFA office bearers who have been holding the office for the last 18-years.
Football is a poor man's sport where no equipment is needed with only a ball and a field in which to kick it is required. Across the Globe you have plenty of professional footballers who grew up playing on the streets without proper gear and belonging to very weak financial backgrounds. We can’t snatch the right to play football from our youth just because some greedy administrators want to remain glued to the chair by hook or by crook!
(Author is a senior journalist working as special correspondent with Deccan Herald and has keen interest in development of sports in Kashmir)