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Athletics

Sports in the time of economic crisis: Lakshadweep's history-maker waits for her ship

Mubssina Mohammed, Lakshadweep's first ever international medallist, is currently unable to go home because of the transportation crisis in the Union Territory.

Sports in the time of economic crisis: Lakshadweeps history-maker waits for her ship
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Mubssina Mohammed in action during the Long Jump final at the Asian Youth Athletics Championships in Kuwait (Supplied)

By

Dipankar Lahiri

Updated: 19 Jun 2023 10:41 AM GMT

The islands of Lakshadweep are buzzing with excitement at the imminent return of their history-maker. A reception has been arranged in Kavaratti for Mubssina Mohammed, the first international medallist in sports to have come from this archipelago around 400km from the coast of Kerala. The islands' administration has announced a prize money of Rs 10 lakh for the 16-year-old athlete and Rs 2.5 lakh for her coach, who happens to be the only Athletics coach in Lakshadweep.

But Mubssina and her coach Ahmed Javed Hassan are currently in Kochi, having returned from the Asian Youth Athletics Championships in Kuwait on Wednesday. They do not know when the next ship to Lakshadweep will be and are currently utilising the time in the mainland by getting the long jumper's shoulder injury treated.

"Getting tickets for the ship is not the expensive part, what takes up all our money is to stay in Kerala while we wait for the next ship," said Hassan, who has been on a whirlwind journey with his star ward over the last month.

At the National Games in Gujarat earlier this month, Mubssina won the Long Jump gold, making her the islands' first national-level medallist in Athletics. Carrying on the dream run, she won two silver medals - in Long Jump and Heptathlon - at the U18 Asian Championships in Kuwait last week, making her the islands' first ever international medallist in any sport.

"If Jawad Hassan didn't come into my life, this would have never happened. My first event was the 800m race. He asked me to shift to Long Jump, and there has been no looking back," Mubssina said.

"There is no sports idol to speak of in Lakshadweep. Mubssina is the first of her kind," said Hassan.

"I always believed we have inherent Athletics ability, so I kept trying to train kids, even though we never had a proper running track. I made a 200m mud track around a football field, which the public also uses. I organised races for many years, doing everything from setting up the markings to calculating the times. Sometimes I had to coax young boys playing football to try this sport," he said.

'Sports, like everything, has been hampered in Lakshadweep'

Mubssina, the long jumper, may have been God's answer to the years of persistence put in by Hassan, but he adds that it has come in a difficult time for the island in general. Most of the public discourse in the islands over the last year has been on how the government is choking local economic activity. Like the reduction of freight ships to the island from a weekly count of seven to one.

"Sports, like everything, has been hampered in Lakshadweep," said Hassan.

"Last year, our team had to stay in Kerala for almost a week after the National Championships before we could get a ship to go home. Consider how expensive that would be for a team of 12 athletes.

"Earlier, the funds we used to get were higher for such trips. The Lakshadweep Sports Council now gives us Rs 1 lakh. Here, that is the only source of funding. There are no private sponsors, no other incomes. We need at least Rs 1.5 lakh for these trips, but the file is not moving above the secretary," said the coach.

Sports is only one of many sectors which have taken a hit in the Union Territory in recent times due to bureaucracy. Following the appointment of BJP's Praful Patel as Administrator in December 2020, budgetary support has been cut to panchayats and cooperative societies in this Muslim-majority archipelago. Three thousand temporary and casual government workers have been fired from their jobs, a figure the local sea-based economy has been unable to absorb.

Amidst all of the economic turmoil, Lakshadweep has produced a prodigious Athletics talent for the first time.

"Things happen when they do," Hassan said on the irony of the timing of Mubssina's rise.

Mubssina Mohammed at the Asian Youth Athletics Championships podium (Supplied)

"From 2015 onwards, when she was a 9-year-old, Mubssina always stood out in our islands. Often competing with grown women, she used to win the marathon and other middle distance races. I have been training her since 2016. I also sent her to a sports hostel in Calicut, but she chose to return here.

"What makes Mubssina's case different is how her mother has fully supported her. Parents are very reluctant about sports generally here. Mubssina now trains in Andrott Island with me, and so her whole family has shifted here," said Hassan.

From mud tracks to the world stage

Young Mubssina used to draw loud crowds at the Lakshadweep School Games, the biggest sports event in the islands, earlier. This year, her stage was the international arena.

At the Asian Youth Athletics Championships, Mubssina was in gold medal position till the fifth jump, finally finishing only behind Uzbekistan's Sharifa Davronova. In Heptathlon too, she missed out on the gold medal only by 7 points to Alina Chistyakova of Kazakhstan.

"There is no disappointment because of the close margins. How she came up with her best at that big a stage was all that mattered. She lost out on the Heptathlon gold because she was not at her best at the Shot Put and High Jump because of her shoulder injury. We will get that fixed now," said Hassan.

Probably, Mubssina and her coach will also keep out an eye for when the next ship to Kavaratti will be scheduled, so that they can finally go home.

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