The National Sports Festival – a flagship event of the Ismaili Muslim community in the United Kingdom – renewed itself during the weekend of 2–5 April 2010 at Loughborough University. With over 1 000 participants playing 11 sports and competing in 37 categories, NSF 2010 was the biggest edition in the biennial sports festival's 26-year history.
Participate ♦ Motivate ♦ Celebrate
The theme for the Festival – Participate, Motivate, Celebrate – couldn't have been more apt. Participants poured in from across the United Kingdom, as well as Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Sweden, and from as far away as Canada and the United States. Some 1 600 supporters gathered to cheer on the amateur athletes, who competed on courts, pitches, courses, fields, dance floors and in swimming pools.
“We feel really great,” said Kamaluddin Bandali from Northwest London Jamatkhana, who led his team – the London Bullets – to victory in the Traditional Volleyball competition. “The seven of us are all from different jamatkhanas across the UK; we work hard and play hard.” He noted that this is the third consecutive NSF in which he has been part of the winning team in the sport – all the more reason to celebrate.
Ally Dharsani and Nadir Fazal from Ljungby Jamatkhana in Sweden emphasised the importance of taking part: “We played volleyball (Danish Dynamites) and didn't win, but we don't mind,” says Dharsani. “It's just nice to see people from throughout Europe and even Canada. It's good to support others.”
Seventeen-year old Ayesha Alibhai from Ilford participated on and off the court. When she wasn't playing badminton or dribbling her ladies basketball team – the Ilford Stars – to first place, Alibhai was snapping her camera as one of the main photographers at NSF 2010. For her, this year's NSF was “inspiring, well-organised and fun.”
First time's a charm
NSF 2010 was the first edition of the event has ever been hosted at Loughborough University, which boasts the country's largest concentration of high quality sports training facilities and is considered the UK's premier varsity for sport. Sal Makhani of Leicester was ecstatic with the choice: “I'm so proud to be part of the Ismaili Volunteer Corps in Leicester and really pleased that NSF is in Loughborough this year. The buzz has been fantastic and it's a superb sporting institution.” She was also full of pride that her father, Shokatali Makhani won the Over-55s Men's Table Tennis tournament and came second place overall.
It was also the first time that 15-year-old Shamil Mohamed from West London Jamatkhana participated in an NSF. Mohamed's phenomenal performance set hip-hop moves to Bollywood music, and won him second place in the Over-14s Dance competition.
“I feel brilliant – I am the runner-up,” exclaimed Mohamed. “I'm also super happy as I've broken a record for the first guy to ever reach the finals in NSF in the Over-14s Dance competition.”
It was also a treat for his father, Altaf Mohamad, who participated in Men's Doubles Badminton: “This was the first time that I have seen my son perform on stage, my wife Guly and I are extremely proud of him. Shamil definitely doesn't get those moves from me!”
Swimming was another first at NSF 2010, with the 25m Freestyle, Backstroke and Breaststroke competitions for three main groups: 7–8, 9–10 and 11–12-year-olds. Eight-year-old Imran Ismail from Nottingham and Grantham won seven of his eight races in the swimming heats.
“I feel really happy – I honestly never thought I would get such a big achievement,” said Ismail. “This morning I was making tasbihs, and in the afternoon I am winning swimming competitions against some very fast kids!”
Inspired by London 2012
The London 2012 Cultural Olympiad – which is part of the official run up to the next Olympic and Paralympic Games – officially recognises outstanding projects and events through their Inspire programme. The coveted London 2012 Inspire Mark was awarded to NSF 2010 for the Ismaili community's commitment to the intrinsic Olympic values of “excellence, respect and friendship,” and the vision of NSF to empower, achieve and inspire.
“Ismailis are widely recognised for producing accountants and doctors,” observes Dr Farhad Mawani, the Ismaili Council for the UK Member for Youth and Sports. “We want to increase and encourage grassroots participation in sports at all levels so that one day we are also [known for] cultivating sportsmen and women. NSF is a catalyst in achieving this as it engages and inspires the youth of the world to pursue their sporting aspirations.”
Emma Burke, 2012 Inspire Programmer for the East Midlands, visited NSF and was thoroughly impressed with the strong reliability on volunteerism and colossal role the youth played in organising the large-scale event: “NSF is excellent, everyone is enjoying themselves, the variety of activities is great and the parallels with Olympic values is evident. I sincerely hope you do produce sportsmen and women for future.”
Family, friends, and festivities
NSF isn't just about the sports. The event caters to all age groups from children to senior members of the Jamat. Activities like cooking sessions, Nintendo Wii, salsa, yoga and even line dancing were open to participants and spectators alike.
Daytime festivities gave way to enticing evenings of entertainment. The opening night event – Sara Zamana (The Entire World) – celebrated the rich cultures and dynamism of the global Ismaili community. The audience was held captive by musicians, dancers and entertainers from Africa, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Iran. The three finalists from the Under-14s and Over-14s Dance competitions also performed during the evening, which culminated in a fashion show.
Birmingham's Rajastani Ranis quartet were a testament to the inclusiveness of NSF and the depth of talent in the Jamat. The group – which took first place in the Over-14s Dance competition –are all women over 30-years-old, and two of them are mothers!
NSF 2010 was capped off by an award ceremony on Sunday evening, with plenty of trophies for the winners, and witty, sharp speeches from the organisers. The crowd was treated to a show from the acrobatic duo Starfiz, whose synchronised twisting and turning as they descend ribbons suspended from the ceiling left the audience mesmerised.
Non Stop Fun… and a lot of hard work in-between
“The NSF Sports team really stepped up throughout the long weekend,” said Riaz Hooda, NSF Vice-Chairperson for Sports. “We had so many members that worked tirelessly with the utmost passion, dedication and professionalism. Overall, I felt people came closer together, not only through good spirited competition but also through volunteering,” he added.
Salima Nazarali Goawalla, NSF 2010 Chairperson, echoed his sentiments, pointing at her team of volunteers as the highlight of her NSF journey. “Their selfless sacrifice of personal time as well as their resilience to change was inspirational. The team's energy, enthusiasm and ambition to make NSF 2010 bigger and better than any before were my motivation.”
At Loughborough, it was an open secret that “NSF” – the moniker of this remarkable sporting event that goes beyond competitive athletics and brings families and friends together to celebrate the Jamat's unity, diversity, passion, culture and excellence – doesn't just stand for National Sports Festival…
The weekend was really all about Non Stop Fun!