Beyond cricket

September 22, 2019

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BOXER Muhammad Waseem returned home to deafening silence at the airport. With three swift punches, Waseem had knocked out his contender in a breathtaking 62 seconds just a day or two earlier in Dubai at the Rotunda Rumble event. Even more significantly, it was his first match after nearly a year away from the boxing arena. Unable to secure sponsors, Waseem was stripped of his silver flyweight title and top rating in 2018. Despite his remarkable comeback, the exhilarating minute and two seconds were not aired on local sports channels. Other than a handful of sports enthusiasts, no one in the country seemed to even notice what a big moment this was for Pakistan sports. In reaction to the cold indifference, a ‘news page’ on Twitter questioned why no one had bothered to greet Waseem upon his arrival. The flyweight boxer responded that he did not fight for “greetings”, but to show the world Pakistan’s boxing prowess. This exchange was picked up by cricket legend Wasim Akram, who criticised the Pakistani state and public for their apathy towards their own ‘heroes’. Finally, all eyes were now on Waseem.

Akram’s tweet pointed to a bitter reality: beyond the stars of cricket, there is little to no media, corporate or government interest in highlighting other sports. Earlier this year, when snooker champion Babar Masih arrived in Karachi after winning the Asian Team Snooker Championship in Doha, he regretted that only the association’s president showed up at the airport to greet the team. The present state of boxing has also been marred by tragedy, internal politics and indifference in recent years. One of Pakistan’s greatest boxers, Abrar Hussain, was shot dead in Quetta in 2011. Another rising star, Lyari’s Mehrullah Lassi, was banned during his peak after he failed a doping test in 2004 — for traces of cannabis, not any performance-enhancing drug. It is time to show greater appreciation to those who continue to make the country proud, despite all the odds stacked against them.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2019