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The boxers’ test in Baku

Pakistani pugilists will be trying to earn tickets to Rio in the capital of Azerbaijan to make sure that the country makes its Olympic return in boxing for the first time in 12 years

The boxers’ test in Baku
National boxers pose for a photograph with Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) Director General Akhtar Nawaz Ganjera in Islamabad. They are scheduled to leave for Baku on June 14 to feature in the Olympic qualifiers.

Pakistan’s boxing squad is set to feature in the world qualifying round for Rio Olympics in Baku from June 15 to 26. The seven boxers picked for the purpose will be making a desperate effort to earn Olympic berths and enable Pakistan to return to the world’s most prestigious event after a gap of 12 years. Pakistan last appeared in Olympic boxing in 2004 in Athens.

Mohammad Asif (52kg), Niamatullah (56kg), Ali Ahmed (60kg), US-born Umar Cheema (64kg), Amir Khan (69kg), Tanvir Ahmed (75kg) and Awais Ali Khan (81kg) are the boxers going to Baku.

Pakistan Sports Board’s (PSB) senior official Habib Shah is also part of the touring party. He will monitor the whole proceedings as the Board’s representative and submit a report to the Board. The PSB decided last year to send its representative with every touring party, a practice which seems to be of no utility.

The qualifers are very important for Pakistan in that if a few pugilists qualified it would augment the country’s Rio-bound contingent’s strength which otherwise would be very small since the national hockey team has failed to make a cut for the Olympics — for the first time in the history of the slots in which Pakistan made its debut way back in 1948 London Olympics.

But the question is: are national pugilists able to give a breakthrough at a time when they have been suffering because of official politics? They were denied the opportunity to appear in qualifiers held in the Chinese city of Qiana’n in March and April when the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) decided against financing the squad. The Board is now backing the national boxers who are expected to fly out of Islamabad for Baku in the wee hours of June 14.

The Board had not backed the boxers for the China qualifiers because Pakistan Boxing Federation (PBF) had not implemented the national sports policy. After the federation bowed before the Board it decided to finance the team.

Having covered boxing for the last 14 years, I am convinced that things have not been properly dealt with from the selection of boxers and coaches to the preparatory plan and its execution.

The selection of Washington-born 21-year-old boxer Umar Cheema is a blunder, committed by the PBF without taking its coaching staff into confidence. The coaches were not in favour of Cheema’s selection.

He needed a lot of improvement to make it to the national squad in the light welterweight category in which the selectors had talented boxers like Qadir Khan of Navy and Suleman of Army.

Cheema, who is accompanied by his father, arrived in Pakistan just last week. The PBF’s secretary Iqbal Hussain told me that Cheema would be put to test before selection. But a day later a source told me that he had been picked without trials. It is a blunder. Pakistan cannot afford experimentation at this stage. Baku event is the last chance for earning tickets for Rio de Janeiro.

I saw the boy from the US during the training camp at the PSB Coaching Centre Karachi for the Asian qualifiers. He may have trained under good coaches in Miami but he is not good enough for national duty.

Till last reports Cheema had developed a problem in his stomach. The PBF had told him that he should tell the federation whether he would be able to accompany the squad as it would not be fair if he featured without fitness.

Amir Khan’s participation also seemed in jeopardy. He had not yet provided his passport to the management for visa.

“If he gives us his passport even till Monday we will get his visa endorsed the same day,” Iqbal told The News on Sunday.

Moreover, the PBF should have sent players in light flyweight, heavyweight and super heavyweight categories as well because Pakistan has a few experienced boxers in these.

The PBF opted to ignore these three weights because in the light flyweight there are two seats on offer while in the two heavyweights only the gold medallists will move to Rio. The PBF may have opted to ignore the three weights because it did not believe that the PSB would sponsor the tour.

Sending boxers home after Pakistan missed the Asian qualifiers was another blunder. Despite knowing that they still had another chance in Baku sending boxers homes for around one month affected the preparation and the coaches had to work on them anew when the pugilists assembled in Islamabad for training for the Baku assignment.

Dropping the highly experienced coach and former Asian gold medalist Ali Bakhsh who had been training the Baku-bound lot for the last three years seriously affected the preparation.

Ali knows how to use his resources. In Ali’s absence former Olympian Arshad Hussain had to work hard in the camp with former international and AIBA one-star coach Mohammad Nisar assisting him.

Surprisingly the authorities included coach Tariq Gujjar despite the fact that he stayed away from the camp for six weeks.

It shows that the PBF wants to oblige some departments ahead of its elections which are due in December this year.

A foreign tour for the boxers should have been planned as quality preparation is needed for competing at a world-level event. I still hope that boxers like Awais, Asif, the 2010 South Asian Games gold medallist Niamatullah and Ali Ahmed can spring a surprise.

The PBF president Doda Khan Bhutto seems to have disowned the federation. He looks more interested in foreign tours than the boxers’ preparation. He never visited the national camp, neither in Karachi nor in Islamabad.

Only the PBF’s secretary Iqbal Hussain has been looking after the boxing affairs for the last couple of years. Doda recently toured Lausanne to attend AIBA’s extraordinary congress, but he did not take pain to even inform media about what he was going to do — very unbecoming of an official heading a federation.

Doda has served two terms. And new rules disallow a third term. Doda’s rival and former PBF secretary Akram Khan seems to be a darling of the PSB and British boxer Amir Khan. Neither the current PBF officials nor the Baku-bound squad and its officials were invited to the ceremony organised by the former two-time world champion in Islamabad last Sunday at the Pakistan Sports Complex in the federal capital despite their presence in the city.

As per deal the government has made with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) the PSB will accept those federations that are affiliated with their respective international federations. Backing parallel bodies like that of Akram-led PBF would be a serious violation of the deal.

Alam Zeb Safi

Alam Zeb copy
The writer is a sports reporter at The News International. He may be reached at [email protected]

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