It was the first day of spring, yet the daffodils remained hidden under the snow – an irony that was not lost on the National Sports Festival participants. Nearly 900 of them braved the bitter cold and journeyed to Keele University in North Midlands, United Kingdom for NSF 2008: The Jubilee Games.
The 2008 National Sports Festival saw participants from the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Denmark, Spain and France compete in 23 different sport categories. From volleyball to golf, to the ever-popular football and netball tournaments, there really was something for everyone! Those not competing could participate in a range of activities including kickboxing, salsa dancing and bhangra-aerobics.
More than awards and bragging rights were at stake at this year's games. The winners in several sports – including badminton, tennis, and squash – will represent their country at the Golden Jubilee Games to be held in Nairobi, Kenya in June.
The participants did not allow adverse weather conditions to hold them back from competing. In the face of snow covered pitches and courses, the teams geared-up for a slippery set of matches.
The sun did appear sporadically through the weekend, providing occasional respite to the players, but the greatest source of energy came from the cheering spectators. From the first magnificent pass on the football pitch to the last shot in the basketball final, crowds of supporters gave constant encouragement to their favourite athletes throughout the weekend.
The Sports Festival was not just for the seasoned competitor. Novices and enthusiasts were also encouraged to participate regardless of their skill level. Several participants were playing on a team for the first time.
“I hadn't played volleyball since I was 14-years old at school,” exclaimed a member of the IVC volleyball team in her late-20s. “I had to re-learn how to serve, and also re-learn just how much volleyball can hurt your wrist!”
“Playing and watching the sports was very emotional,” she continued, “and it is always great to see the talent we have in our Jamat as well as everyone playing and having fun.”
Every evening presented an occasion for celebration. On Friday and Sunday, there was dandia raas and members of the Jamat danced away to the beats of the Ismaili band Khayal. On Saturday, Simon Sylvester and Friends, with Sandyman on the Tabla, entertained members of the Jamat with a selection of traditional and popular musical styles from various cultures.
Younger Jamati members could be found either dancing and singing at the Youth Club Network's Jubilee Shuffle or sampling desserts from across the globe at the youth and young adults programme, Golden Flavour.
The weekend culminated in a fantastic awards ceremony featuring a special address by the inspiring Paralympic gold medal winner Ali Lalani.
Throughout the weekend – beside the snow, sleet and rain – there was a real buzz in the air.
The demonstration of brotherhood and unity among Jamati members of diverse backgrounds, ages and nationalities, coming together for competition, recreation and cultural exchange, underlined the very spirit of the Ismaili community and the Golden Jubilee Commemoration.