Against The Odds, A Pro Soccer Team In Kashmir Is Close To Winning India’s Top Title

Feb 25, 2019 by

Photo caption: Snowflakes began accumulating on the turf by halftime during a Feb. 6 game at...

Photo by Lauren Frayer NPR

Snowflakes began accumulating on the turf by halftime during a Feb. 6 game at Real Kashmir’s home stadium in Srinagar. The coach of the visiting team said later that some members of his team, from southern India, had never seen snow.

They play soccer in a disputed Himalayan valley prone to car bombs, strikes and heavy snow. Soldiers with machine guns patrol their home stadium. Players sometimes have to arrive at practice three hours early to avoid police curfews. Their team is less than three years old, with a budget that’s one-tenth that of some of their competitors.

Now, against all odds, Real Kashmir Football Club, from Indian-controlled Kashmir, is tantalizingly close to winning India’s top professional soccer title. They’ve been flitting back and forth between first, second and third place, and the season ends in early March.

“We’re the only club in India that has sold-out stadiums at almost every game,” says the team’s co-founder Shamim Mehraj. “What we have done is give people some hope in a place that has actually been taken down by conflict and violence for the past 60 years. It’s helping this place heal.”

Kashmir’s recent history has been chaotic. It has seen three wars between India and Pakistan and is the site of a decades-long separatist insurgency that Indian forces have often dealt with violently. The valley is part of Hindu-majority India’s only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir.

A natural disaster helped give birth to this soccer team. In 2014, the Kashmir Valley suffered devastating floods. Hundreds of people were killed. Schools were closed, and young people spilled out onto the streets of Mehraj’s hometown Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir and one of the largest cities in the valley.

Source: Against The Odds, A Pro Soccer Team In Kashmir Is Close To Winning India’s Top Title | KPBS

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