India’s only skier in Beijing comes from troubled Kashmir

Mohammad Arif Khan, the first Indian athlete to qualified in two events, wants to be a model for young Kashmiris.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – At a time when the hijab affair rages in Karnataka, an athlete named Mohammad, is India’s only entry in a skiing event in the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Mohammad Arif Khan hails from Jammu and Kashmir, an Indian-controlled Muslim majority region affected by a pro-independence insurgency.

After carrying the flag during the opening ceremony on 4 February, the 31-year-old will compete in the giant slalom tomorrow and the slalom on Wednesday.

This is his first Olympiad after he qualified in November in a race held in Ski Dubai, an indoor ski arena with artificial snow that has become one of the main local attractions in the past few years.

The Indian athlete was born in the town of Gulmarg, which lies in a valley at an altitude of 2,600 metres at the foot of the Himalayas, about fifty kilometres from Srinagar.

When he was a child, Mohammad Arif was initiated into winter sports by his father, Yasin Khan, who runs a local ski equipment shop.

A few decades ago, Indian authorities dreamt of turning the area into an internationally renowned ski resort, with one of tallest lifts in the world. However, because of political tensions, this never got off the ground.

Although the Indian government stopped investing in winter sports altogether in the late 1990s, Mohammad Arif stuck it out, eventually making it to the Olympics,

He trains and competes mainly in Europe, paying for his own travels, and has already participated in the World Championships.

He could have made it to the Olympics as early as 2018, but instability in his home region virtually wiped out local tourism, hitting his family’s core business, thus his own capacity to finance his participation in qualifying races.

This time Mohammad Arif Khan resorted to crowd-funding to finance his Olympic enterprise. and even though he has not change of winning a medal, his qualification and presence in Beijing are already a great success for himself and for Kashmir, whose special autonomy was scrapped in 2019 by a disputed decree by the Modi government.

Asked about the political situation, the Indian athlete said: “If something unpleasant happens in my house, I certainly think about it. But I want to bring a message to the young people of Kashmir and inspire them to achieve their goals. This has always been my dream.”