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Life-changer in snowbound Leh

india Updated: Dec 24, 2010 22:29 IST
Saurabh Duggal

Winter brings almost everything to a halt in Leh. But not for the youngsters who play ice hockey, a popular activity when schools are given a three-month winter break and it is off-season for tourism.

That enthusiasm is being rewarded as the sport is promising to transform the lives of the local people. For those already in the armed forces, it is a route to promotion. For others, it is a chance to land a government job.

After the first official Indian team - all players came from Ladakh - competed in the 2nd Asian Ice Hockey Championship in Abu Dhabi in 2008, the players seem to be getting recognition.

Last year, Mohd Ajaz Giri of Skara village became the first to get a job in the J&K government on the basis of his ice hockey performance.

Spiritual and Sporting
In the last six months, US migration of a different kind has happened from Punjab. Village children Jermanpreet Singh, Agiapal Singh, Manraj Singh and Harmanjot Singh have shifted base to Bradenton, Florida for four months. But this trip is courtesy football and the boys are members of the India under-14 team who have been sent for training. Reliance is sponsoring their trip.

All four are the trainees of the Dera Sant Hazara Singh Gurudwara Academy, located 25 km from Gurdaspur at Village Nike Guman. Eight years ago, Dera Sant Hazara Singh Gurudwara planned a football academy, which is now a success story of Indian football.

There is hardly any junior tournament in the state the academy has not won. And it has, in the span of eight years, produced around 50 national-level players and nine internationals.

"With the academy showing results and more and more players wearing the national jersey, the craze for football has grown manifold in nearby villages. In 2006, we increased the seats from 22 to 40. Now we have under-14 and under-17 teams," said coach Harinder Singh.

The real success for the academy came in 2006 when three of its trainees were named in the national squad for the under-13 Asian Football festival.

Since then, no junior Indian team has left the country without a Gurudwara academy player in its ranks.