Volleyball is the most widely played sport in the world; 218 national federations are affiliated with the FIVB (International Volleyball Federation). No other sport boasts as many.
The sport (both men and women) has been part of the Olympics since 1964. As many as 26 countries, more than any other team discipline, have won Olympic medals. This alone depicts the high standard of this game across most parts of the world.
Volleyball is a popular sport in Pakistan as well. The national team has achieved good results on the Asian scene. Pakistan won bronze medal at the 1962 Asian games. At the Asian Volleyball Championships, the country’s best show came in 1989 when Pakistan surprised many by finishing 4th in a highly competitive field. In fact, volleyball team’s international achievements are third only to hockey and cricket if we talk about team games.
The sport is mainly played in small towns. Naseer Ahmed, Pakistan’s biggest star of the present times, comes from Shakargarh tehsil of Narowal district. The internationally renowned player has plied his trade in top clubs of a number of countries.
“It is the most popular sport in Shakargarh. Even the club games attract crowds in thousands; the town has produced a number of internationals,” he says. “The environment meant I took to game while still at school. Success came early. In 2000, my school won the Gujranwala divisional championships,” says Naseer.
In 2001, when 17, Naseer was picked for the Punjab under 19 camp. And then there was no looking back. Within two years, he had earned the coveted green blazer — Pakistan team for the Asian Juniors (2003) in Qatar. The same year saw the 6’3” spiker win the national senior colours, at the Asian Championships; he has been a regular ever since.
In 2009, he was named the captain of Pakistan’s national team and has been leading them till now.
A truly remarkable graph!
Pakistan’s captain believes that the country has good potential. “When I assumed captaincy in 2009, we had a young and highly promising bunch of players; most of them with good height. The way the group was progressing, it was hoped the national team would be at its peak from 2012 to 2014.
“That is how it turned out. In 2012, Pakistan qualified from Asia for the final round of the Olympics — a first in the country’s history.
“We faced formidable sides such as Bulgaria, France and Egypt — all consistently rank among world’s top 20. Though Pakistan couldn’t win any match but provided anxious moments to all of their opponents. The volleyball fraternity and the media were quite surprised by the standard of our game,” he says proudly.
Next was the 2013 Asian Championships. In the previous outing, two years before, Pakistan had ended a creditable 7th. “Our graph was going upwards and a semifinal spot was within our sight. But the issue of two national volleyball federations, an offshoot of two parallel bodies of Pakistan Olympic Associations, put a dampener on our hopes. The team was withdrawn from the competition,” he says.
There was further disappointment at the 2014 Asian games, again due to the parallel federation syndrome.
“WAPDA and the services’ teams provide the bulk of Pakistan’s national side. For the Asiads, we, the WAPDA players, had been attending the national camp in Peshawar, organised by the national volleyball federation headed by Chaudhry Yaqoob, affiliated with General Arif’s POA (recognised by the IOC). The services teams were with the parallel body, recognised by General Sahi’s (now defunct) POA since 2012. Only 10 days before the games, the players from the two factions joined for common training in Islamabad. You can well imagine what coordination could have been attained in so little time; no wonder, Pakistan finished 11th.”
Naseer Ahmed might not have seen much glory with the national team due to circumstances beyond players’ control but the country’s finest volleyball player of his generation has been in great demand in international professional circuit.
He has been active in the lucrative leagues of the Middle East for over ten years now.
It started in Iran where Naseer was on the rolls of Gol Gohar Sirjan club for the 2005-6 and 2006-7 seasons.
It is pertinent to mention that of the 15 Asian club volleyball championships held so far, Iranian clubs have won the title a total of 10 times.
From Iran, he moved to Dubai where he plied his trade for four seasons.
A professional sportsman is always attracted by better offers.
For the last three seasons, the Pakistani star has been shining in Lebanon.
“In all the three leagues, I have appeared for the top division clubs. As you know, the standard of Iranian clubs is the best in Asia. The presence of players from world’s major volleyball nations such as Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Bulgaria and Serbia, is the prime reason.
“In Dubai too, the clubs acquire the services of players from the top ranking nations. I was the only Pakistani during my time there. In 2010-11, my club Ajman VC was the league champions. “Moving to Lebanon, in three seasons, my clubs have twice reached the semi-finals of the play-offs. In 2012-13, I was playing for the Tennorine VC. Midway through the season, there was a break for the Arab club championships in Beirut. The reigning Lebanese champions Bauchreih acquired my services. They reached the final, the only time for a Lebanese outfit, and I was named the best spiker,” he says.
The standard of Arab club volleyball can be gauged from the fact that the only Asian team ever to play the final of the FIVB Volleyball Club World Championships was the Qatari club Al-Rayyan.
“All the clubs I have played with have big budgets and a number of sponsors. The atmosphere at the matches is electric with thousands in attendance. Special buses carry supporters for the away games.
“Here I must tell that it was my show with Pakistan’s national team that impressed the Dubai clubs. Al Rashid International Tournament is an annual event in Dubai, with participation from top Asian nations plus Afro-Arab countries like Egypt.
“I represented Pakistan five times there — was declared the MVP twice and the best spiker on two other occasions,” he says.
Italy is a leading volleyball nation. Italian clubs have won an amazing number of eight out of the total 10 FIVB Volleyball Club World Championships.
Naseer has had the honour of being offered a trial by an Italian club.
“It was a great opportunity but my commitments with the Pakistan team didn’t let me go for that,” he says.
Naseer reportedly earns around $70,000 a season.
Pakistan can rightly take pride in having an international mega star in the world’s most widely played sport.