An effective physical education programme provides numerous benefits to a nation, which are all the more important to a developing country. Winter sports is an uncharted territory on the map of Indian sports, though there are several regions in the country with immense potential in this sector, and that potential must be realised both in terms of sport and commerce.
Winter sports have the potential to turn an economically unproductive snow-clad mountain into a goldmine. California, for example, is not amongst the best-known winter destinations in the world, yet the winter sports industry of the state generates $500 million in a single season.
Winter sports infrastructure increases employment in the most unproductive of months. Sports facilities need skilled labour, thus encouraging education and generating higher wages. Recreation and sports also fuel a healthy consumer culture and the pursuit of a higher standard of living.
National and international sports events and tourism also bring in large amounts of foreign currency and, crucially, reinforce the value of our precious ecosystem.
The success of winter sports and tourism related industry in the long term is closely related to the sustainability of the developmental projects from an environmental point of view. Directly or in directly, we will always be dependent on our environment, and thus must act responsibly towards rebuilding and preserving it.
Winter sports have been seeing a surge over the last few years — there has been a 300% increase in clubs and associations in the hilly regions of the country in the last four years. From just two forms of alpine skiing practised less than a decade ago, the number of winter sports disciplines in India has increased 10-fold. High speed, GenX sports like artificial track luge and snowboard are becoming increasingly popular.
Most of these sports have developed due to individual or local interest and must be institutionalised in order to be popularised.
The Advisory for the Development of Winter, Ice and Tobogganging Sports (ADWITS) is a venture with ambitious objectives to promote winter sports. It provides professional guidance at individual and institutional levels, and also aims to answer the questions of “who, why and how” of winter sports development.
The growing interest in winter sports is reflected in the sprouting of ski lifts and resorts in tourist destinations in the recent years. January 2008 will see the debut of the South Asian Winter Games in India — Uttaranchal will host the event in its Dehradun and Auli districts.
In our own national competitions, athletes from the Army, ITBP, and the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Jammu & Kashmir are the more prominent competitors.
Winter sports enthusiasts have lacked a platform to help them realise their goals, and it is to fill this gap that the Indian Federation of Ice Sports and Tobogganing (IFIST), a non-profit organisation, was launched.
The IFIST aims to hold camps, clinics and workshops to increase awareness about winter sports in the country, both as a recreational activity and a competitive discipline.
The 2008 SAF Winter Games and the Commonwealth Games in 2010 will provide an opportunity to the nation to showcase its ability to host world-class events, an opportunity to bridge the rural-urban divide. Winter sports too must make the most of this opportunity.
(The author, a luge specialist, is a Winter Olympian)