Rugby is new rage among Valley’s girls

Meet Irtiqa Ayoub, a 21-year-old girl from Downtown Srinagar who has brought laurels to J&K

21-year-old Irtiqa Ayoub hails from Waniyar Safakadal in downtown Srinagar. She is an undergraduate student at Government Degree College for Women Nawakadal in Srinagar and has been associated with the rugby game since 2011.
Irtiqa along with some other girls of the Jammu and Kashmir State qualified level-1 in rugby, a category of beginners, and was selected as RDO ( Rugby Development Officer) in J&K by “International Rugby Board.”

Other than RDO, Irtiqa is currently working as an assistant coach of J&K RUGBY, and is among a huge group of female rugby enthusiasts who are learning and take up rugby on professional lines in the Kashmir Valley. Earlier, Irtiqa was selected for the India camp fairer gender to represent India.

She explains why the sport is all the rage among the Valley’s girls.

“I was playing ‘girly’ games like kho-kho and vish-amrit and then I picked up football in 2009. I was finally introduced to rugby in 2011 at my school in Kothibagh. I started as an underdog but became a star when I scored better than the professionals,” says Irtiqa Ayoub. Cricket, she says, is “lousy compared to rugby” as it is a new-age game. “Curiosity and high rush attract girls to the sport.”

According to Irtiqa, Rugby to her means everything, but getting into it was not an easy affair.
Soon after Irtiqa was introduced to Rugby, neighbours went to her father, who works with state’s school board of education, objecting her playing a sport that could cause physical harm and even bring “disrepute”. But Irtiqa never lose hope and kept on playing rugby.

“My parents initially did not like it. But the more I played and came out with flying colours, the more support they provided,” Irtiqa said.

“My grandfather was perceived to be very strict but then he believed in me and let me go into a field,” Irtiqa added.

Young Irtiqa wants to make a career as a rugby player rather than a coach. Irtiqa says that she will continue to impart what she has learnt so far.

“I see charged up girls at the training camps in large numbers and that is when I really feel that I should train them. But playing and making a career out of the sport is not something which cannot be achieved,” she says.

Parents play an important role, she says. “They should shed all inhibitions like my parents did when I started playing the game.

“On my first day, I was surprised to see young girls from remote parts of Valley, attending the training camps. Even school girls brave all odds and come for trainings. The game no longer belongs to men only,” she says.
Rugby, she says, is an addiction for her. “I cannot do without. In fact, I will marry someone who won’t ask me to stop playing the sport,” she says.

Irtiqa is determined to pursue career in rugby and has won gold and silver medals in National events and made Kashmir proud.

“That is the reason that Rugby is an integral part of my life now,” she told this reporter.

Every Sunday, she leaves home early to train the young rugby players of the state.

Rugby as a sport doesn’t have any training programme at the national institute of sports (NIS) but here in the Valley, Minister for Youth Services and Sports Imran Raza Ansari and Secretary Youth Services and Sports Waheed Ul Reham Para has accorded sanction to the construction of a separate ground for game with all the facilities.

Irtiqa who wants all the work to be completed as soon as possible says the girls need to prepare for the upcoming national events and that the game cannot risk losing players for want of infrastructure and other facilities.

“The football association doesn’t let us play on their ground and we have been facing this issue but then the passion for the game in young girls drives us to new grounds to practice and learn. The government needs to do more. At least the basic facilities should be made available,” Irtiqa says.

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