iconimg Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ashiq Hussain, Hindustan Times
Srinagar, May 21, 2013
Where cricket failed, football made it possible.
State's summer capital Srinagar, otherwise darkened by two decades of violence, was illuminated beyond imagination on Monday night - courtesy soccer. A floodlit football game was played for the first time in the history of sports in the state; 135 years after artificial lights were used on a football ground in England.

And the Himalayan region's glittering game was held at Polo Ground in the heart of capital Srinagar, adjacent to Sher-i-Kashmir Park, where a fidayeen attack on a Congress rally on this very day in 2006 had left  five dead and dozens injured.

Trying to overpower the 'pathetic state' of sports infrastructure in Kashmir battered by 20 years of conflict, sports lovers, last year, had tried to tinker with the idea of floodlit stadiums.

A group of young and enthusiastic entrepreneurs of Srinagar had announced to organise a knockout T20 cricket tournament under floodlights in Ganderbal, some 25 km from capital Srinagar. The plan failed owing to some technical issues for organisers at the last moment.

This time, however, the determination was able to conquer the technological barriers.

"It is a precious moment for the history of sports in Kashmir. This is something unique for the people and sports lovers of valley," said BA Shah, senior vice president of J&K Football Association, which has organised the tournament in collaboration with a Delhi-based football development company, Football Link.

Football Link has erected temporary floodlights turning Polo Ground into four equal-sized playing areas, making it possible to play four games at a time.

Shah said that burning torches were used to play a football match when Kashmir's first stadium was inaugurated in 1960s in Srinagar. "That time people were so excited that they burnt torches to lighten up the moment. This time it is a serious endeavour," he said.  

He said that they have kept format of the event as six-a-side, hence allowing them with playing field of shorter length and breadth.   

Over 600-700 players distributed among 60 teams are participating in the tournament, which will continue for the next five days under floodlights.   

There has been very less development of sports infrastructure in the state particularly after militancy broke out in 1989. 

Just two international cricket matches have been played in Kashmir before the militancy. No international football match has been played in Kashmir till date.