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INFRASTRUCTURE: THE YMCA COMEBACK

January 27, 2019

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A view of the recent exhibition match between Commissioner XI and President KHA XI | Photos by Tahir Jamal/White Star
A view of the recent exhibition match between Commissioner XI and President KHA XI | Photos by Tahir Jamal/White Star

Jan 18 was a memorable day for Karachi’s sportspersons as — following orders of the Supreme Court — sporting activities at the Young Man’s Christian Association (YMCA) were revived after a lapse of 16 years. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has done a remarkable service to the Sindh capital. The government could not do so because the YMCA falls in the (security) Red Zone and is located opposite Governor’s House. The athletes, including women, particularly those residing in District South, are grateful to the Supreme Court for the decision.

The sprawling ground of the YMCA was encroached upon in 2003 after one of the two warring factions of the institution took over its control and allowed wedding ceremonies to take place here, breaking all rules and regulations. The same Supreme Court verdict also disallowed weddings from taking place at the close-by Sir Abdullah Haroon Muslim Gymkhana, which in the past had served as a venue for cricket matches and housed the Karachi Cricket Association (KCA) office.

Thousands of sportspersons who used to turn up every afternoon for practice have suffered a lot due to the closure of sporting facilities at the YMCA, Muslim Gymkhana, the Railway Ground and Police Ground on Garden Road in the last 15 to 20 years. All these grounds are located in close proximity of each other, within a two-kilometre radius.

After the historic verdict given by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, sporting activities at Karachi’s Saddar grounds have been revived. They have a long history of grooming athletes

I am a witness to the good old days of the YMCA. As a young athlete I was awarded my first certificate at an inter-school meet there in 1968.

George W. Das held the post of general secretary of YMCA Karachi for many years. His team, among others, included Wilburn Bede and the ever-smiling Zafar J. Shakti, who both subsequently rose to the position of general secretary. Unfortunately, Shakti, the last person from that era, died after a protracted illness last year.

Sadiq Wahabuddin and Riaz Ahmed have diligently served as Chairmen Sports Committee of the YMCA for years. According to official records, the YMCA — situated in the heart of the city at Ram Bagh Quarters on 36,955 sq yds — was given the rights for holding sport activities in 1913. After the country’s independence, the YMCA served as one of the main sporting centres in the metropolis for over five decades, before the activities were suspended by people who had vested interests.

The youth of that era were lucky to get easy access to the ground for daily workouts under reputed honorary coaches who groomed them into stars. There used to be several competitions, including the annual inter-school meet, in different disciplines, under the aegis of the Directorate of School Education and witnessed some fierce competitions.

Directors of Physical Education (DPE) of several city colleges, such as the D.J. Science College, the National College, the Government Commerce College, the S.M. Science and Arts Colleges and Premier College, used to visit the YMCA frequently in order to spot outstanding sporting talent and offer freeship to those seeking first-year admissions.

The same exercise would be repeated when the athletes passed their intermediate examinations and sought admissions to NED and the University of Karachi on the sports quota.

Shabih Abbas — The man behind many hockey heroes
Shabih Abbas — The man behind many hockey heroes

In those days, inter-school, inter-collegiate and inter-university was the route to prove one’s mettle and go for the Pakistan colour. All Karachi athletes used to come up this way from the educational route as there were no shortcuts.

The YMCA used to offer sports facilities of track and field, hockey, basketball, badminton, table tennis, tennis, and martial arts for both genders. Its canteen, too, was quite popular among athletes and organisers of sporting events.

ATHLETICS

Although the YMCA had a 300-metre track instead of the standard 400-metre one, it was the hub of activities after independence and produced outstanding athletes who went on to represent Pakistan.

Before moving to the then Hockey Club of Pakistan Stadium — which has a 400-metre track — and starting his Athletic Fitness School in 1977, veteran international athlete Mohammad Talib also used to train at the YMCA. Masroor Ali Khan aka Ustad, Abid Hussain, Arshad Saleem, Iftikhar Hussain, Ali Kamani, Joel Andrew, Kaleemullah Farooqui, Michael Gomes, Ahmed Abdul Aziz, Vakil Nasir and Usman Nagi were among those known as the YMCA group, who all carried forward the rich tradition of healthy activities.

HOCKEY

The former Director Sports of Habib Public School Shabih Abbas set a precedent by providing three world class goalkeepers to the Pakistan hockey team in Shahid Ali Khan, Mansoor Ahmed and Ahmed Alam — all former Olympians — besides several other stars during his first stint at the school from 1976 to 2003. Abbas also had the honour of starting a trend of benefit matches under the YMCA banner.

The first-ever benefit match there was held in 1978 for former Olympian P.P. Fernandes, who represented undivided India at Berlin in 1936 and Pakistan at London in 1948. The second combined benefit match was organised for Olympians Habib-ur-Rehman and Latif-ur-Rehman in 1980.

WOMEN’S HOCKEY

Master Azhar Fatehpuri was the person behind the launch of women’s hockey activities under Mazhar Sports at the YMCA four decades ago. Fatehpuri’s trained girls were so outstanding that most of them earned selection in Karachi, Sindh and Pakistan teams.

The husband-wife pair of Dr and Mrs A.R. Khan were also regulars at the YMCA with their three children, including daughter Shaista, who later followed in the footsteps of her mother as an organiser.

BASKETBALL

The former international Mohammad Khan was the man behind running the game of basketball at the YMCA courts for decades. The institution has served as a major centre of this sport. Khan’s son Jawaid also represented Pakistan and is committed to carry forward his father’s legacy.

BADMINTON, TABLE TENNIS, MARTIAL ARTS

Jospine Alexender, Sultan Ahmed and senior instructor Iqbal used to supervise badminton, table tennis and martial arts practice, respectively. Besides, there was also a tennis court close to the Governor’s House entrance.

A word of praise is due to the Commissioner Karachi Iftikhar Shallwani and DC South Syed Salahuddin Ahmed for quickly complying with the Supreme Court orders and making it possible to organise an exhibition hockey match to mark the revival of YMCA on Jan 18.

The writer is a member of staff.
zuberijournalist@yahoo.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, January 27th, 2019