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The golden era of table tennis in Pakistan

Updated Aug 25, 2013 02:59pm


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Pakistan table tennis team stepping out of the plane at the karachi airport on it return from abroad after competing in the Far East Champioship in 1963. Manager Majeed Khan is followed by Michael Rodrigues, farooq Zaman, Ashraf malik, Mazhar Qureishi and Shahid Iqbal.  — Photo courtesy :Anwer Zuberi collection (reproduced by Fahim Siddiqui/White star)
Pakistan table tennis team stepping out of the plane at the karachi airport on it return from abroad after competing in the Far East Champioship in 1963. Manager Majeed Khan is followed by Michael Rodrigues, farooq Zaman, Ashraf malik, Mazhar Qureishi and Shahid Iqbal. — Photo courtesy :Anwer Zuberi collection (reproduced by Fahim Siddiqui/White star)
The 30x60 feet hall of Islamia Club that produced severl international players. — Photo courtesy :Anwer Zuberi collection (reproduced by Fahim Siddiqui/White star)
The 30x60 feet hall of Islamia Club that produced severl international players. — Photo courtesy :Anwer Zuberi collection (reproduced by Fahim Siddiqui/White star)
Pakistan team that featured in the 7th Asian Table tennis Championship held at Islamabad in 1984. Team manager Mr Sanaullah is seated in the centre flanked by the Chinese coaches.   — Photo courtesy :Anwer Zuberi collection (reproduced by Fahim Siddiqui/White star)
Pakistan team that featured in the 7th Asian Table tennis Championship held at Islamabad in 1984. Team manager Mr Sanaullah is seated in the centre flanked by the Chinese coaches. — Photo courtesy :Anwer Zuberi collection (reproduced by Fahim Siddiqui/White star)

Seeing is believing, goes the saying. There was a time when Pakistan table tennis teams used to travel abroad more than the hockey team to feature in international meets. The results were also visible as Pakistan seized an unprecedented sixth position in the men’s team event twice in Asia in 1984 and 1990. On both the occasions, Pakistan finished ahead of India. Going beyond the sixth place was a Herculean task as world powerhouse China, South Korea, North Korea, Japan and Taiwan had monopolised the top five slots in corresponding order.

The name of Saiyid Mohammad Sibtain (S.M. Sibtain) is synonymous with the golden era of Pakistan table tennis. He was the man who gave new dimensions to the game by opening coffers and provided the needed exposure to the teams on a regular basis.

S.M.Sibtain(R) with Majeed Khan.— Photo courtesy :Anwer Zuberi collection (reproduced by Fahim Siddiqui/White star)
S.M.Sibtain(R) with Majeed Khan.— Photo courtesy :Anwer Zuberi collection (reproduced by Fahim Siddiqui/White star)

The 71-year-old Amroha-born Sibtain who retired as federal secretary was neither a player nor a technocrat and his entry into the table tennis fold was absolutely by chance when one of his pupils, Imdad Ali (now deceased), proposed his name in the Karachi Table Tennis Association (KTTA) in absentia. The position later took him to the upper cadre of Pakistan Table Tennis Federation (PTTF) where he was elected vice-president in the early seventies.

Luck was at his side when in 1972 he led a delegation of Pakistan men and women teams in the inaugural Asian Table Tennis Championship held at Beijing besides having a proxy of Asian Table Tennis Union’s (ATTU) vice-president for Farooq Zaman for ATTU executive board, council and congress meetings.

During his stay in Beijing, Sibtain played a vital role in drafting the byelaws for ATTU and succeeded in convincing Arab and Muslim states to join the newly-formed union. He also represented Pakistan in preparatory meetings of Asia-Africa and Latin America held in Beijing. He was chosen to speak on behalf of delegates of the three continents in response to the speech of Mayor of Beijing at the banquet in the Peoples Hall and was offered a seat next to Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in a historic group photograph of over 500 players and delegates.

Unaware that God had picked him to serve the game, Sibtain was elected secretary of the PTTF in Nov 1977, again in absentia, and went on to serve on the post for three terms of four year each before voluntarily stepping down in 1990. Mr S.H. Shah was at the helm of affairs as president PTTF. Presently, Sibtain is heading the PTTF.

Though Pakistan started competing in the world championships in its infancy, but it was after the formation of ATTU that the frequency of competitions increased. During the period, Sibtain left no stone unturned and the Pakistan team was amongst the front runners in Asia. The three-year stint of two Chinese coaches including Yao Chen Xu from 1975 to 1978 provided the much needed breakthrough to the young lot of players.

The hosting of the seventh Asian Table Tennis Championship at Islamabad in 1984 that saw participation of 20 nations including the hosts heralded a new dawn and marked the inauguration of the Liaquat Gymnasium. It was the largest sports event ever held in the country.

Karachi has mostly earned the lion’s share in the formation of the Pakistan teams to compete globally. During the golden era, club level activities were at their peak. Be it Islamia Club, Sharfabad Club, St John’s, YMCA or Amroha Club, a fierce competition used to take place with an enormous turnout.

The 80-year-old Dr Essa Mohammad, who finished runners-up to Farooq Zaman in the men’s singles event of the national championship in 1955, still has wonderful memories and cherishes the heyday of the game, also known as ping pong. His son Dr Farhan Essa has instituted a table tennis tournament named after his illustrious father.

There’s a long list of silent workers who used to run the show effectively. They, among others, include Zakiuddin Baig, M.A. Ghani, Obaidullah, Ehtiramuddin, Shamsul Haq, Imdad Ali, Zamir Mirza, Waliullah Malik, Shuja Haider, Saleem Ahmed and M. Shahid aka Leader.

Alas, all good work done spread over half a century has crumbled due to dirty politics and the name of Pakistan now figures among those who also participate.

Arif Khan — a profile

Arif Khan, a scion of the Khan clan, is one of the most accomplished table tennis players the nation has produced to date. A product of Islamia Club, of course, Arif represented the country for almost a quarter-of a century, from 1974 to 1998, which envisaged four Asian Games between 1974 to 1986, eight biennial world championships and as many Asian championships, apart from the Commonwealth table tennis championships, Asia Cup, the US Open, China Open, Japan Open and numerous other events.

The 53-year-old Arif, who grew up playing in Islamia Club, has taken over the reins from his late father and is making concerted efforts to fill the vacuum. Though, like a player, he has also made his mark in coaching globally as ITTF course conductor, he, somehow, lacks the charisma of his mentor.

He started the game at a tender age and soon made his place in the national team picked for the Tehran Asian Games in 1974, when only 14. He first got a job in PIA’s sports department from where he moved to UBL. He resigned from the bank in 2001 when serving as AVP there.

The three-time national champion in men’s singles — 1983, 1987 and 1993 — apart from capturing many other honours, Arif rose to fame by pocketing back-to-back gold medals at the Kolkata SAF Games in 1987 and the Islamabad SAF Games in 1989 besides fetching a mixed doubles gold with Nazo Shakoor, also at Islamabad.

He describes Islamabad’s the Asian Championship quarter-final against a North Korean player as the “best” of his career despite suffering defeat. He had beaten the then China No 1 in the qualifying round before getting the better of the 1979 world champion from Japan in pre-quarters.

Arif attributes the success of his playing career to the training lessons from two Chinese coaches during their three-year stint from 1975 to 1978 and terms the period of 1984-1993 as the golden era of Pakistan table tennis.

A recipient of the President’s Pride of Performance award in 1990 on his outstanding performances in international events, he picked up coaching in 1996 and since 2004, as an ITTF Level-I course conductor and coach, has travelled to Maldives, Malawi, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Laos, Oman, Dominica and Kenya to name a few. — A.Z.

Brothers and sisters who donned the Pakistan colour

Saeeda Sultana and Altaf Ali.

Munira Fikree and Rukia Fikree.

Javed Hayat and Sohail Hayat.

Munsarim Saif and Farjad Saif.

Arif Khan, Mehboob Khan and Sohail Khan.

Shaheen Latif and Shahnawaz Latif.

Rubina Shakoor, Seema Shakoor and Nazo Shakoor.

Naseem Nazli and Shamim Nazli.

Rahila Anjum and Naila Anjum.

— Compiled by A.Z.


1979 — Jawaid Chotani wins gold medal in the singles event in the third World Junior Table Tennis Championship held at Alexendria, Egypt.

1984 — Pakistan secures best ever sixth position in men’s team event in the seventh Asian Table Tennis Championship held at Islamabad. The event attracted 20 nations including the hosts, the biggest ever participation of countries in Pakistan in any sport so far. Pakistan again bagged the sixth position in the men’s team event in Asia in 1990.

1984-85 — Arif Khan is ranked 17th in Asia and 67th in the world in men’s singles. Both rankings are the highest ever from Pakistan’s perspective.

1987-89 — Arif Khan wins three gold medals — two in men’s singles in the third and fourth SAF Games held at Kolkata and Islamabad, respectively, and one in mixed doubles with Nazo Shakoor in the fourth SAF Games.

1988 — Farjad Saif is the only player so far to represent Pakistan at the Olympics in Seoul where ping pong made its debut in the quadrennial games. — Compiled by A.Z.

A crusader of table tennis

Money alone can’t help nations win medals. It is definitely one of the important ingredients but in addition one needs a motivator to achieve the desired results. The US could have easily scooped all the gold medals that are at stake in Olympics had money been the sole yardstick of achieving success.

The late Majeed Khan, the founding secretary of Islamia Club, was a true motivator for table tennis and provided a platform for regular healthy competitions to youth so that they could make their mark at least in Asia which they did. He was a fanatic and took pains for half a century to see the game flourish in the country in general and in Karachi in particular.

Islamia Club, a brainchild of Majeed Khan, has a chequered history. It has come a long way from a 30x60 feet table tennis hall with capacity for two tables to a multi-purpose indoor gymnasium, the first in a private-sector providing access to youth.

After getting a go-ahead from his few friends, Majeed Khan embarked on his mission and decided to name the club after his alma mater (the Islamia High School, Hyderabad Deccan) from where he had migrated in 1948. Initially, it was founded in a small rented room in the city’s Hyderabad Colony in 1951. He sacrificed resumption of education for his passion and remained committed to it until his death on Oct 17, 2001.

Those who have closely followed Majeed Khan would agree that he knew the trick of the trade and used to have easy access to the then top bureaucrats. After a period of initial struggle, he convinced eminent people like Abbas Khaleeli, Akhter Hussain, I.A. Khan, Habib I. Rahimtoola, Mohammad Shoaib, S.M. Yousuf and Amirali H. Fancy among others to become founding members of Islamia Club. They acceded to his request and then there was no looking back.

A land in Soldier Bazaar, measuring two acres was acquired in 1956 from the Ministry of Defence, courtesy former secretary Defence, Akhter Hussain, for the club, which was formally inaugurated by the then Commerce Minister, Z.A. Bhutto, on Jan 10, 1959.

It was this institution that set a precedent by inviting world champions and other greats of the game on Islamia Club’s invitation for table tennis tournaments that took place at the KMC Club in the fifties. The fraternity of the game was delighted to see world champions from Hungary in Karachi among them and also the greats of countries such as England, India, Iran, Egypt, Czechoslovakia, Singapore and the United States. Information reveals that the club had organised 13 international competitions.

Islamia Club also had the honour of inviting world champions from Japan to Karachi, who were followed by the Chinese stars after they took the world crown from Japan. The matches were organised at the KMC Club.

A number of dignitaries also had the honour of visiting the institution. Islamia Club was fortunate that Ms Fatima Jinnah graced its first function in Aug 1951. Three prime ministers, namely, Mohammad Ali Bogra, I.I. Chundrigar and Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy presided over the subsequent functions of the club.

Apart from conducting local competitions and coaching camps on a regular basis, Islamia Club served as a reservoir and provided numerous men, women and junior players to Pakistan teams for decades.

Not satisfied with his work and knowing that age was catching up fast, a devoted Majeed Khan embarked to set new milestones by constructing a multi-purpose indoor gymnasium and his dream finally came true when the then Federal Sports Minister, S.K. Tressler, inaugurated it on Jan 27, 2001. He ran from pillar to post to raise funds for completing the project. The then Defence Minister Salim Abbas Jilani played a vital role in accomplishing the task.

Majeed Khan, who also served as secretary of KTTA and joint secretary of PTTF, was blessed with 11 children — seven sons and four daughters — all of whom played table tennis. Three of them Arif Khan, Mehboob Khan and Sohail Khan went on to represent the country.

Though Majeed Khan is no longer among us, his son Arif is carrying the legacy of his illustrious father. — Anwar Zuberi

The writer is a member of staff.


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Comments (26) Closed

Tariq Rahman Aug 25, 2013 03:43pm

A brilliant article with a lot of information and history of table tennis in Pakistan. Well done sir and keep it up.

Murad Hussain Aug 25, 2013 06:33pm

Dear Mr. Zuberi:

I enjoyed reading your article in Dawn today. In particular, I was happy to see picture of Mazhar Qureshi, Michael Rodriques, Shahid Iqbal, Farooq Zama, Ashraf Malik. I had chance to play with all of them in 1960's when I was a junior champ in Rawalpindi & had chance to play with seniors in Gold Cup Murree ( with Shamshul Haq) (with Shaid Iqbal) in lLahore. I quit Table Tennis when I went to Punjab University in 1964. I am is USA now. My partner, Atta Mohammad Malik (Late) continued playing & I believe he led Pakistan Team on many occasions to many countries. I was very surprised that in your article, his name was not mentioned.

I know you are from Karachi & know mostly Karachi players. Please let me know what you think?

raw is war Aug 25, 2013 07:53pm

Pakistan was sixth in Asia. Good achievement. By why mention "Ahead of India"?

varinder abrol Aug 25, 2013 08:07pm

Why is Pakistan's yatd stick limited to India. You guys are good and should eye for higher levels.

zehra Aug 25, 2013 09:15pm

MR Anwar u forgt to mention Qamar Saeed Zaidi who ws da senior vice president of PTTF and Atta uncle too who were da ppl behind evry event if u want picx i hav thm too but plz dont ms out da important ppl who gav thr life to PTTF

Shaikh Ahmed Aug 25, 2013 09:25pm

May Allah bless Majeed Khan, the writer had took me to my young age, after getting bored by the Ruby Shield and Inter Collegiate, and Inter University, Crickets. I started Table Tennis, in which I have no say how I have got into that game, and went up to Intercollegiate, due to exam I was unable to compete for the position, but I still remember the names and how the players used to work, and there was a big completion between all of us and there was no ill feelings like today, what we see in the games. and to tell you the truth the has become the political game. After I left school, and college, I started my life joining a US Company, and worked for about 8 years and moved to Bahrain, then to Kingdom, and was rally become a good player in the kingdom, then join the Federal Government Jon and worked until I came back to the United States, but I do miss all those names mentioned by the writers of this game and when Majed Khan used to be at YMCA, Karachi, in the table Tennis Hall, what a days it was. Thank you for sharing such a good person Mr. Khan, was . The last thing I would like to say about is Ms. Saeeda Sultana, and her brother Altaf both No-1 of India came back to Pakistan. One Khalid Eabullah, who used to live near or behind Bunder Road next to N.J.V. High School, Karachi. Thank you for providing the under singed a chance to say some thing about the games. Sincerely,
Shaikh Ahmed

bushra Aug 26, 2013 02:29am

Its sad that you have forgotten a very important name syed qamar saeed zaidi the senior wise president of table tennis association who was instrumental in giving the much needed support and advise to the then young team of pakistan and went a lot of times to many countries with them as manager

S Mehta Aug 26, 2013 04:06am

As a table tennis player your article brought back happy memories when I grew up in Bombay. One of my neighbors was the father of the Malik brothers - one of them was probably Ashraf in the 1963 Photograph. The brothers used to visit their Dad on holidays and practice at the local YMCA where I met them. Nothing like the good old days of childhood as they say.

Khalid Butt Aug 26, 2013 04:21am

Lovely to know our bright PAST

Saleem Mir,MD,FACP Aug 26, 2013 06:11am

One feels nostalgic about the times Pakistan was a country where Christians,Hindus and Muslims equally had deep love and commitment to their motherland. The case in point is Dr.Michael Rodrigues in Table tennis and Brojan Das who crossed the English channel in record time to bring honor and acclaim for Pakistan. Dr.Michael Rodrigues was my senior in Department of surgery at Misericordia Fordham Hospital affiliation in Bronx. He felt so proud to be a Pakistani that he would go an extra mile to get all junior house staff from Pakistan at par with the rest because to him it was a matter of saving the honor of Pakistan that all of us excel in our performance. Those were the days we reminisce and wish were back again.

Ali Aug 26, 2013 06:46am

More of biography on two SB, Khan than article on table tennis.

Dr. Mohammed Uneeb Aug 26, 2013 07:02am

Players of yester years mentioned in the article, Michael Rodrigues, farooq Zaman, Ashraf malik, Mazhar Qureishi and Shahid Iqbal, did not have to rely on table tennis as a profession. Instead, it was the passion and love for the game that brought laurels. It is a different world now where sports is a profession. Unfortunately, this profession in Pakistan has an extremely low return on investment and hence the reason for decline. The problem needs to be looked at the grass roots by the Government who does not have to go far to look for solution - the Chinese structure may be a good starting point. Prime Minister's recent visit to China may be used as a starting point to explore collabration to build our grass root infrastructure.

Kind Regards, Dr. Mohammed Uneeb 116/I, 13 Street Phase 6, DHA Khi

Asif Aug 26, 2013 09:09am

Truly a great place and yes I had played there for two yrs between 1987 - 1989.. I was impressed seeing Sohail and Imran playing exhibition game in 86 at sharafabad club and that excited me to learn this game.

Madhur Aug 26, 2013 11:39am

Dear Author,

I read this article with impression that Pakistan was big force in Asia if not in world ,but 'sixth position in asia' the high point of TT for pakistan is sad reflection of sporting culture in sub continent . Not able to dominate a single sports in Olympics consistently for last 3-4 decades despite having almost 20% of world population is very shameful. India domination ended in 60s and Pakistan domination in 70s, though pakistan have some bright spots in 80 & 90s but it was gradual downfall from the commanding heights of earlier era. I have noticed that where ever the level of competition has increased or professional training is required , the teams from sub continent have faltered . India & Pakistan have flourished in some sports during 50-60s at Asia level because level of completion was very less ,only few countries of SE Asia & Japan used to give competition , but now Koreans & Chinese are way ahead in almost every sports . Lastly, Pakistani friends if you want to improve the level of TT in your country bench it with leading countries and not with India , because 'india as yardstick is a big joke '

Salim Bootwalla Aug 26, 2013 12:02pm

Two great names in Pakistan women table tennis are forgotten, namely, Ms. Parveeen Minwalla and Ms. Jamila Tayeebji.

M Mughal Aug 26, 2013 12:07pm

As I have never played professionally in Pak (started late love with TT), but on you tube I was watching MA Long (80s) playing and on back ads of TCS, I surprised at that time and thought in Pak TT was so popular, whenever I have visited Karachi ( I brought my TT blade with myself and googled places for TT), but my family never allowed me (its not safe in karachi ).

If we compare India, they are now world ranking 28 (ITTF ranking), same with Egypt and Iran

I hope and pray same days come again (may be our kids will become world champion)

M Mughal

S M Sibtain Aug 26, 2013 06:33pm

@Madhur: A very sane, sincere and well considered advice.

Imtiaz Faruqui Aug 26, 2013 08:12pm

Table tennis is a very good game for people 40 and above to keep them fit and enhance your reflexes, but to play facilities are very limited in Pakistan.

DMDiL Aug 26, 2013 11:40pm

wow, awesome pics, it's hard to believe we went backwards instead of moving forward in time. table tennis is awesome sport.

safosh Aug 27, 2013 12:31am

Good article. However, it did not mention the name of Ayub who defeated Michael Rodrigues in the national championship finals.

Afzal Khan Aug 27, 2013 05:48am

@Shaikh Ahmed:

I remember Majeed Khan very well in fiftees when he was a leading organizer of Table Tennis in Karachi, He represented Islamia Club. I also remember a match organized in Karachi when Franc Sido and Kozian both world class player gave an exhibition match at Khaliqdina Hall on Bunder Rd. Till then I had not seen the highest level of Table Tennis Majeed Khan had in mind to inculcate youngsters like me in Karachi get interested in taking TT seriously. As a result when I reached Scotland in 1963 I represented Edinburgh University in Inter University tournaments in UK. Since then I have always been an enthusiastic player now with advanced age still can hit some pretty hard forehand shots.

Khan Aug 27, 2013 05:57am

@Madhur: Had we never seperated, it would have been a different story altogether. After british departure, govt of subcontinent would have focussed on people development rather then turning into govts of indo/pak weapons development.

Mahmood Mir Aug 27, 2013 08:21am

I am sorry to say you forget about (Late) Jaffar Kirmani he was # 2 in Pakistan at certain times. Do not ignore his talent in Table Tennis, he was from the era of Michael Rodriguez and was active member of Islamia Club

Ahmed Aug 27, 2013 09:10am

Because my Indian friends, we measure our success against you guys and that's a sad thinking for sure.

Yusuf Raza Aug 27, 2013 11:21am

If Golden Era = Being positioned above India and not really winning golds then Pakistan really needs to look into its standard. Only in South Asia people take pride in being 6th.

Gerry D'Cunha Aug 27, 2013 02:33pm

1950s and 1960s were the golden era for sports in pakistan where all communities(muslims and non-muslims) took equal part for the country - sports legends in christian communities like Michael Rodrigues;PF Fernandez;Wallis Mathias;Antho D'Douza took pride in their performances in pakistan