Sports has been prioritised once Ladakh received UT status, says volleyball team captain Mubarak
Ladakh Volleyball captain Mubarak

Guwahati: The fate of Ladakh may have been in a balance after it became a Union Territory, especially in light of the recent protests by famous engineer and climate change activist Sonam Wangdu, but at least sports has received the priority it deserves, believes volleyball team captain Mubarak Ali, a resident of the Kargil district in Ladakh.

Mubarak and his teammate Ghulam Ali were taking a stroll inside the Sarusajai Sports Complex, the venue for the 71st National Volleyball Championships discussing their loss against Delhi in the opener that started post lunch on the opening day of the competition here.

“We gave our best, but Delhi turned out to be the better side today. No regrets, we are still in the learning process because as a team, this is just our third national championship. There is a long way to go in the tournament,” said Mubarak and Ghulam in unison as we exchanged handshakes before striking a conversation.

“Hi, I’m the captain of the Ladakh team,” the 5’ 6’’-tall Mubarak introduced himself as we took our seats on one of the lawns at the campus.

How’s it going? Are you liking Assam? “It’s been a bit tiring, we reached Guwahati on Wednesday evening, and there you go, next day we have a match straight up, but no complaints, we are professional players. Assam is beautiful from whatever we have experienced so far, more than that, the hospitality here has been amazing. It feels like home as we get rice,” Mubarak said in a lighter vein.

Mubarak, 25, said that the team had a brief 10-day training session before the championships, thanks to the fresh snowfall in the higher ranges of the mighty Himalayas that reduced their originally-planned 30-day camp by 20 days.

“It is difficult to train outdoors, especially when the tournament is held in February. We hardly get any time to train after December. It’s a summer sport for us back home. During this time, winter sports like ice hockey, skating, skiing, and luge, that is more popular there,” he said.

What practice looks like at home for Mubarak Ali and teammates.

With little acclimatisation time in the Guwahati weather, Mubarak said it’s a challenge for them wherever they go, and they prefer to take it as a challenge.

“It is the same in most parts of the country, we can’t find the weather that we have back home. And as professional players, that is the challenge we relish. Having said that, yes, the time consumed during travel takes a toll on some of the players,” he said.

Mubarak and his team reached Guwahati after a two-hour flight from Leh and a 36-hour train journey. But more than the travel fatigue, it’s the travelling cost that hurts most players. 

According to Mubarak, the cost of each player’s travel comes to around Rs 22,000, which he claims is thankfully reimbursed by the UT Sports department. 

Has anything changed in Ladakh post the abrogation of Article 370? 

“If you see from a purely sporting angle, it has impacted a lot. Sports is one sector that has been prioritised once Ladakh received UT status. Earlier, Kargil and Leh (the two districts of the region) could at best participate in the inter-district tournament, now, we have a chance to participate in national-level events, representing our UT. This has given the players more exposure to come out of their comfort zones and give their best in other parts of the country,” he explained.

“The UT volleyball team participated in the 69th and 70th editions of the national championships, held in Odisha, now we are taking part in the 71st edition in Guwahati. This is a huge boost to the players who needed to take on the bigger teams and learn from them,” he added.

Mubarak, employed as an Orderly at the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, also gave an account of the infrastructural developments in the Union Territory that have come up in recent times.

“There are three-four indoor training facilities coming up in both districts. This will help the players to even train during peak snowfall, and come prepared for bigger tournaments. I have learnt that all the facilities will be equipped with multi gyms and other modern amenities. I’m sure it’ll be a great boost to our region and the athletes,” he said.

Born in Pashkum village in Kargil, Mubarak is leading the UT team for the first time at the championships. A graduate of the Kirori Mal College under Delhi University, Mubarak’s short frame made it difficult for him to find a permanent role in the College’s volleyball team.

He took the challenge head-on, proved his skills in the second year of college, and was eventually drafted into the side as a Libero, although he technically claims himself as a Middle Blocker. A libero in volleyball is often the best defensive player on the team and is used as a second defensive specialist based on the game situation, while a middle blocker’s main role is being the first line of defence against the opposing team’s hits.

“In Delhi, it was difficult initially as all the other players were huge and they couldn’t believe I could fit into the team. But I wanted to prove myself, and was set to play in whatever role I was assigned by the team management,” he said.

Back in Leh after completing his graduation, coach Mohammed Jawed Skarchen found the perfect middle blocker in Mubarak, and elevated him to the position after his impressive performances at the inter-district level.

Also Read | Assam: 71st Volleyball Nationals to start on Thursday

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