He took up a sport that he had only seen on screen while growing up. His inspiration was Bruce Lee. It was watching the action hero in Chinese movies that piqued his interest in combat sports. Meet Danish Manzoor, the taekwondo player from Jammu and Kashmir and an ambassador for the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports’ Fit India Movement. He wants to represent India in the Olympics and get home a medal in taekwondo, a category the country has not been able to qualify in as of now.
The talented sportsman spoke to ABP Live about his sporting dreams and career, and how he gave shape to them while growing up in trouble-torn Kashmir. “In 2011, I saw combat sport live for the first time and immediately it piqued my interest. I decided to learn the sport and joined classes for training,” said Danish, whose favourite film was ‘Enter the Dragon.’
After training for a while, he was selected by the youth services and sports department to play in a school event.
“I secured my first-ever bronze medal in this event. I always loved watching taekwondo matches,” he said.
Taking up taekwondo professionally was, however, not easy for Danish, a boy growing up in terror-affected Jammu and Kashmir where his family lives in Baramulla.
“When I started pursuing the sport professionally in 2013, it was difficult to practise and attend training sessions regularly due to the curfews in Kashmir. I used to practise at home during curfews, and sometimes it affected me very badly. I used to get nightmares because of this. It was difficult to survive, but I didn’t give up.”
Until 2016, players like him would train outdoors and practise kicking in flip-flops instead of pads. Danish said he did not get much support from sports authorities for training, but his dedication towards qualifying for the Olympics is stronger than anything else.
Social Media To Danish Manzoor’s Aid
Social media at times can do things established practices can’t. It came to Danish’s aid too. The Israel Open Olympic ranking G2 event was coming up and Danish wanted to participate in it. The player from a middle-class family in Kashmir, however, needed a sponsor to make that happen.
Danish posted on the social networking site Koo and it worked.
“I posted on Koo when I was in need of sponsorship for the Israel Open Olympic ranking G2 event. …my message reached people across the nation. Help Foundation, a J&K-based NGO, reached out for sponsorship because my Koo got a lot of traction,” Danish told ABP Live.
He said it was only because of his post that his Israel outing could become a reality. Danish had earlier won a gold medal in Gulmarg Taekwondo Fest in 2014. In the All India Open Senior National Federation Championship, the Kashmiri lad grabbed a silver medal in Jaipur in 2016. He also represented India in the 2nd India Open International Olympic Ranking Taekwondo Championship held at Hyderabad in 2019.
Danish’s Olympic Dream
Danish now wants to don the Indian jersey and bring an Olympic medal home. He is slogging hard to achieve the feat. As of now, India has never qualified in this category and that’s a reason he is more focused to accomplish his goal. Danish is grateful to his family for all the support they have given him since he started playing taekwondo. He has his parents, two brothers and sisters in his family.
“It’s because of their immense faith in me that made it possible to secure my place in Team India,” Danish said. Naming his coach Atul Pangotra, J&K Taekwondo Association president DN Pangotra, joint secretary Neelofar Masood and patron Dr Khalid Mehraj, he said it is their dream too that he plays in the Olympics.
Speaking to ABP Live, he also discussed the measures he thinks should be taken to improve the quality of the game. “It’s so disheartening to see that taekwondo, an Olympic sport, was taken out of the 36th Gujarat National Games. Our J&K team had qualified for the 36th Gujarat National Games and our coach was preparing us for the same, but when we heard about the news we were shattered.”
He added: “If the authorities believed in us like they support other Olympic sports, we would surely bring laurels. India has the talent for this sport (taekwondo), and they only need support and attention from the government, which also needs to play a role in providing proper training facilities.