Indian footballer Afshan Ashiq was among the many athletes and fitness influencers invited to the virtual 'Fit India' summit on September 24, which saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi interact with them on the importance of sport and keeping fit.
Afshan Ashiq, who plays as a goalkeeper for the Mumbai based club PIFA Colaba has also represented the J&K state women's team, and made her Indian Women's League bow in 2017 for the 'CM's XI' team from J&K.
During the interaction, PM Modi recognized and acknowledged Afshan Ashiq's journey, and exclaimed: "You have amazed us all in football. The fans often say ‘Bend it like Beckham’. They can now say, ‘Ace it like Afshan’. You have been an inspiration to the women not only in Kashmir, but also in the entire country."
In turn, Afshan Ashiq spoke about the importance of keeping fit for her as a goalkeeper, both physically and mentally.
"I have to not only work on my physicality and flexibility as a goalkeeper, but also on the mental side of the game," she said. "I can see the whole game unfolding in front of me, so as a goalkeeper, 60% of how the game goes could depend on how I read the game."
“I take a lot of inspiration from MS Dhoni. The way he keeps calm in tense situations is incredible. That is why it is important to keep your mental stress in balance,” Ashiq added.
Afshan Ashiq: Wrongly portrayed as a stone-pelter
In 2017, Afshan Ashiq was pictured pelting a stone at security forces in Srinagar en-route a practice session at the TRC turf ground. The image reached multiple media organizations, and Ashiq was tagged a 'stone-pelter'. Ashiq, however, claims that the picture is taken out of context, and she was only protecting her students — not attacking the police.
“My students and I were passing through Pratap Park for a practice session which was scheduled at TRC ground in Srinagar. The roads were already swelled with angry protesters, who were protesting against the civilian killings in Kashmir," Afshan Ashiq told 'The Bridge' in 2018.
"But within no time policemen approached us and started misbehaving, even after we told them repeatedly that we are not protesters but sportspersons."
"In the meantime, a cop slapped one of my students, which infuriated me and compelled me to do something which I was never known for. I hurled stones in a bid to protect my students and myself from the rage of government forces, who misbehaved with us and abused us as if we were the ones chanting slogans."
"I was portrayed as a stone-pelter by media outlets at the national level, who got away by distorting and manipulating the facts. I tried hard to remove the tag but the media never let it happen.”
Over time, Afshan Ashiq has been acknowledged for her role as an icon for football in Kashmir, specially among young girls. She is also a qualified coach, and her latest interaction with Prime Minister Modi goes a long way in recognizing her for what she is — an inspiration to everyone who wants to take up the sport in the valley.