Unlimited Winter possibilities

Mr.Pankaj Athawale (Head-Corporate Relations & Sr.Research Associate)

Every winter, a large portion of the Indian subcontinent is known to experience chilly winters. The Himalayan states in the North East, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal get waves of tourists flocking there to enjoy the snow. Many Bollywood films have glorified nature’s glory during the winters in various scenes, movies and songs.

Then why does a country having a Himalayan Arc of around 2400km (ranging from Jammu Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh) not send a decent sized contingent to the Winter Olympics?

This year at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018, we saw veteran Shiva Kesavan compete at his 6th and last Olympics along with armyman Jagdish Kumar competing in the cross country event.

Gulmarg, Dayara Bugyal, Auli, Manali, Pahalgam, Sikkim, Shimla, Mundali, Munsiyari, and Narkanda are the most famous destinations of India in winters.

Gulmarg and Auli are two of the very popular skiing spots for Freestyle, Alpine and military skiing. Snowboarding in Auli, Manali (Solang Valley) and Gulmarg is a thrilling affair.

Shimla is a great destination for trying your hand at ice skating, every year an Ice Skating Carnival is organized in January by the ice-skating Club of Shimla. Kufri, Auli, Narkanda, Manali, Gulmarg are the other popular ice skating destinations of India. Gangtok, Shillong and various parts of the North East are popular winter destinations too.

Then why is that Indians have never taken up any winter sports? It is hard to fathom but that is the reality. Shiva Kesavan took up the Luge in the early 90’s, got hooked to it and has been representing India at the winter games since 1998. Not to forget without much public or governmental support. He confesses, what has improved is only the awareness among his countrymen, nothing beyond it. Even the media to a large extend does not indulge in much reporting as there is very little understanding of winter sports. 2925 athletes from 92 countries participated at the Pyeonchang winter games this year, many of these countries do not have any snow clad peaks. For eg- Eritrea, Ghana, Kenya, Madagaskar, Morrocco, Nigeria, south Africa, Togo, Ecuador, Jamaica, etc

A few days back, the headline of a leading English daily in Mumbai read, Jagdish Kumar finishes a “dismal” 103rd out of 119 athletes in the 15km cross country skiing event. He almost didn’t make it after the Winter Games Federation of India (WGFI) and his employer, the Indian Army, delayed his departure until the 11th hour over the nomination of a coach to accompany him. Considering the context, the Indian media not just under reports the developments in winter sports but makes it sound as if the athletes went there to have a holiday at the taxpayer’s expense.

Shiva Keshavan is the only Indian to have won medals in international meets in winter sports (Asian Gold 2011, Asian Silver 2009, Asian Bronze 2008, Asian Silver (Doubles) 2005, Asian Bronze (Singles) 2005. He is currently the Asian Speed record holder at 134.4 km/h, making him the fastest man in Asia on ice. Does he get the recognition of the citizens? What could he do? Just keep on pursuing his passion at his own expense and family support.

Guess the country needs to seriously think of about this sector. We also need to explore possibilities for disabled athletes who could participate at the winter para-games.

The need of the hour is to create more awareness about the various disciplines of winter sports across the country. The domestic tourist travels to the northern snow clad regions regularly. They need to take up such sports as amateurs to start developing basic skills. The Army and the High Altitude Warfare school are training their men and women but the efforts need to be expanded exponentially.

With a billion plus population, India needs to think of unrepresented games so as to give more kids an opportunity to get into sports. Winter games provides this ideal opportunity. Shiva Kesavan while interacting over the weekend also suggested that speed skaters from various states could take up Ice speed skating –one of the winter games disciplines. Gujarat, Tamilnadu, Maharashtra and other states have some talented and brilliant skaters today. Can they be drafted into winter sports? Skiers and shooters could be drafted in the Biathalon where the athletes need to do long distance skiing and also shoot. Bobsleigh requires physically strong athletes to push the sleigh downhill and then manoeuvre it downhill, can wrestlers, kabbadi players etc can be trained in such sports? The possibilities are unlimited, the population is young and the nation has enough snowy peaks to practice on.

What is needed is the will to start. The need is for awareness for winter sports as well as nation-wide demonstrations & capacity building. With Khelo India, the focus is on the youth. Probably the government could also extend this to Khelo India Winter Games soon.

Mission Olympics needs to have a sidekick- Mission Winter Olympics.

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