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A tough journey made tougher

Karate will make its debut in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Pakistan can feature in the ...

A tough journey made tougher

Karate will make its debut in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Pakistan can feature in the discipline as it has a jewel at its disposal who has the capability to make the cut for the world’s most prestigious event.

And this is no one but Lyari’s Saadi Abbas, Pakistan’s most accomplished fighter. Mostly trained in Dubai during his illustrious career, 30-year two-time champion of the Commonwealth Karate Championship, gold medallist of the US Open and the Asian championships, Saadi has already started his quest for earning Olympic ticket with his appearance in the Karate-1 Premier League in Paris in which the world’s toughest karatekas showcased their talent a few days ago.

Saadi defeated high-ranked fighters from the Netherlands and Germany before losing to a player from Turkey who is in the top four in the world. Saadi had beaten the same Turkish fighter last year in September during World Karate-1 Series A Karate Championships in Istanbul in which the Pakistani fighter finished fifth which was a remarkable achievement.

The performance in Paris enabled Saadi to improve his Karate-1 Premier League’s ranking from 64th to 13th.

On road to Olympics, this month Saadi will feature in another event in Dubai. In March he will fight in the Netherlands, in April in Morocco, in July in Turkey, in September in Germany and in October in Tokyo.

The Premier League, Series A and World Championships are also important for the fighter.

Over the years, Saadi has proved that he can beat the world’s top seeds. There is no doubt about his potential. But the issue is who will support his Olympic journey. He may get a few sponsors and that support may help him feature in a few events but unless the state backs him he will not be able to win an Olympic berth.

Those who know Saadi will have an idea of his determination. I firmly believe that Saadi is a rare athlete but he has not been treated the way he should have been.

The target before him is very tough as in his -75kg (men’s kumite) ten fighters from across the globe will qualify for the Tokyo 2020. The host country Japan has already been awarded one seat. For reaching there, Saadi will have to feature in maximum number of events and will have to be more consistent.

It would be more appropriate to learn from him the rest of the story. “I am doing everything by myself. There are numerous problems. I don’t have a coach and sparring partners. I myself plan and execute. When I recently featured in Karate-1 Premier League in Paris no one was with me,” Saadi tells ‘The News on Sunday’ (TNS) from Paris.

“I need a foreign coach. But it would be much better if I got training from different coaches from France, Turkey, Iran as it would help me get different things from them. I am at such a stage of my career that I will not want a coach to change my whole style. But a coach can point out to me what I lack and work on tactics. If during the same time a Pakistani coach is also kept then he will learn from foreign coaches and will then apply those things with the rest of the players. That would help the country in future,” Saadi says.

“I lost to the Turkish fighter in Paris through a video review. This was the same fighter whom I had beaten in Istanbul last year. They would have known about my weak areas as Turkish fighters have several coaches at their disposal. And I have no one. After featuring in the Premier League, the Turkish fighters were going to Spain for featuring in Series A and I am going back to Dubai. I plan for myself and go on. Sometimes I get very demotivated when I see the problems in my way but then I think I should move on. In karate, injuries are a major problem. In Turkey, I fractured my finger and it was painful as there was no one with me to even pick up my bag and I had to handle everything by myself,” Saadi added.

“The biggest problem is that of finances. You need at least Rs200,000 for a single Europe trip. You know, Pakistan Karate Federation (PKF) has no money and I don’t get support from the government. When I became the first South Asian to win Asian Championship in China in 2011, I was given Rs500,000 by the government. And Rs200,000 was given for winning South Asian Games gold. But nothing more. I serve WAPDA and the salary helps my family. Why have I been treated so shabbily when I single-handedly try my best to hoist the national flag in international circuit? I won silver in the toughest event of Islamic Games last year but I have not been encouraged,” the dejected fighter says.

Saadi has also played for Dubai’s famous club Al-Ahli. In 2017, the Dubai Cultural and Sports Club (DCSC) and Al Shabab merged with Al Ahli Sports Club to become Shabab Al Ahli. And Saadi has recently contracted with Shabab Al Ahli for around eight months in order to get some better training environment for Olympics preparation.

Saadi says that fighters of the developed world go ahead through proper plans. “And we lack such things. Because of these issues my performance fluctuates. If I have to qualify for Olympics, I will need to bring in consistency in my performance and it will be hard to do so without the government’s support,” he said.

Saadi says if the government allocated for his Olympic bid Rs5 million it would be sufficient for meeting all demands of his training and competitions which would enable him to qualify for 2020 Olympics.

Saadi adds that it is expected that a French club may register him for a short period which will help him train for some time. He said that training in Pakistan would not be of any help.

The PKF has requested the International Olympic Committee (IOC) through Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) to help Pakistan’s karate through its Olympic Solidarity programme.

If the IOC responds positively, it will help Saadi train abroad which will help him prepare and perform effectively in Olympic qualifiers. The PKF has also given the name of Quetta-born fighter Naseer Ahmed for the programme.


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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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