BOXING: KNOCKED OUT BY LIFE

Updated February 16, 2020

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Young Naseeb Ahmed after one of his victories
Young Naseeb Ahmed after one of his victories

Throwing punches in the air as he sprinted sideways, there was a time when Abdul Khaliq was a familiar sight on the roads of Orangi Town’s Faqeer Colony. Today, the 55-year-old former international boxer plods the length and breadth of the same roads he used to practise on, but searching for odd jobs. Life has thrown many knockout punches his way but the fighter in him doesn’t allow him to give up.

He carries heavy loads for anyone in exchange for a few rupees. He washes cars, too. And if he isn’t gainfully employed, he likes to engage in conversation and talk about the good old days. “I started boxing when I was little. The sport gave me respect, it gave me my identity,” he says.

It also brought him rewards such as a permanent job with the Karachi Electricity Supply Company (KESC) on a sports quota. “That was in 1985. Things were certainly looking up for me that year as I also participated in the boxing event at the second South Asian Games held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to win gold for Pakistan,” he recalls.

Making his employers proud too, he featured in the National Boxing Championship held in Rawalpindi in 1985 and won a gold medal for KESC there. This was followed by another gold medal during the KESC International Boxing Championship held in Karachi in 1987. He also participated in the National Games held in Karachi in 1988 to win again for his department. Representing Pakistan in the President Boxing Cup held in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1988 and the Kings Cup held in Thailand in 1989, he made his nation proud again.

Allah Bux in his rickshaw | Photos by the writer
Allah Bux in his rickshaw | Photos by the writer

“Boxing was at its peak in Pakistan in the 1990s, and so was I,” says Khaliq. Suddenly, he is in another world. There is a faraway look in his eyes as he shares more stories from his illustrious career.

Pakistan’s boxers have tremendous talent. But talent can only go so far in making them realise their dreams. The challenging financial circumstances and the government’s lack of interest in the game of boxing have become a huge impediment in the pugilists’ path to glory

“Things started slowing down during the 2000s. KESC was also privatised during this period and, after that, there was less and less interest for boxing in the department with which several boxing stars of yesteryear were associated. By 2010, KESC disbanded three of their teams — boxing, hockey and basketball,” he says as the creases reappear around his eyes.

“I was sacked by KESC in 2012. And none of the boxing federations or the government stepped forth to support me and the other legendary boxers who used to represent them.

Sher Ali showing off their medals and awards
Sher Ali showing off their medals and awards

“My love for boxing didn’t allow me to study much. I was never a good student and, after passing the eighth class from the Baloch Secondary School in Lyari, I had to give up the idea of studying any further and devoted myself completely to the sport,” says Khaliq.

He feels that politics has destroyed boxing in Sindh. “Earlier, the government departments awarded jobs to good sportsmen on a sports quota. There were boxers, hockey, cricket and football players who knew that, as long as they performed well, their families wouldn’t have to go hungry to bed. The government fully supported them but now it has closed almost all sports sections in government departments,” he winces.

Politics has destroyed boxing in Sindh. “Earlier, the government departments awarded jobs to good sportsmen on a sports quota. There were boxers, hockey, cricket and football players who knew that, as long as they performed well, their families wouldn’t have to go hungry to bed. The government fully supported them but now it has closed almost all sports sections in government departments,” Khaliq winces.

“I represented Pakistan at the international level in boxing and won medals for my country but, unfortunately, I was never given any rewards in return for my services,” Khaliq says ruefully.

Allah Bux showing off their medals and awards
Allah Bux showing off their medals and awards

Born in 1985, Sher Ali, a national-level boxer, comes from a boxing family. “My father, Gul Sher, was himself a well-known boxer and he played a big part in my wanting to be just like him. I participated in the Rangers championships and I won gold in boxing there in 2007. It was only the beginning as, two years later, I joined the Pakistan Army as boxer. I was sent to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where I spent six months in Nowshera,” he says, disclosing that the Army only provided him food and shelter, and not a single penny was paid to him during those six months.

“Then I was sent back home. I was never paid a salary during my six months with the Army boxing team even though I participated in the Sindh Games representing them in Karachi in 2010,” he complains.

Ali says that he has now stopped playing the sport. “I work as a shopkeeper in the Chemical Market near the City Courts. There is no excitement or glory about my work now, but at least I am earning and am able to feed my family. Who should I blame when this has been happening all over with all sportspersons who used to work in government departments?”

Ali points out that departments such as Pakistan International Airlines, Pakistan Steel Mills, the National Bank of Pakistan and so many others with whom they used to work on sport quotas have stopped hiring them.

Mohammad Shahid, who works as an electrician now
Mohammad Shahid, who works as an electrician now

Then there is the 40-year-old Mohammad Shahid, another international Pakistani boxer who also started boxing at only 13 years of age. “I boxed when I was in school and represented many local boxing clubs in Lyari as well as Orangi,” he says.

Bux says that he was not given a single penny by the department after getting fired. “I don’t even get any pension,” he says. “I have three children and I drive a rickshaw now in order to make ends meet.”

Shahid joined the Pakistan Navy in 2004 and participated in several national and international boxing events. “Boxing was my passion. I won gold, silver and bronze medals from 2005 to 2010, continuously for Navy. But after spending 10 years with my department, I was fired from my job,” says Shahid. He adds that he had been informed at the time of his getting hired that it was a 10-year contract.

“As a senior boxer I won many medals during my stint with the Navy. I also trained junior boxers but, as the juniors got more skillful and started winning medals themselves, the seniors were discarded. It is a sad situation,” he says.

Shahid also lives in Faqeer Colony. “I work as an electrician now, but I still box at local clubs in my leisure time. There is a lot of boxing still in me. And I can also coach younger boxers, if anyone would care to look my way,” he says.

But the story of young boxers also isn’t that encouraging. The 19-year-old Naseeb Ahmed, a student of intermediate at the Government Degree Science and Commerce College, Lyari, started boxing at age six. “I participated in the Sindh Boxing Championship and won a gold medal in 2017. In 2018, I got a bronze medal in the Sindh Games,” says the young boxer, adding that he also participated in the inter-provincial Quaid-i-Azam Boxing Championship to take another bronze medal there in January 2018. He bagged gold at the Sindh-Balochistan Boxing Series in March 2018 and also at the Karachi to Chaman Boxing Championship the same year.

Ahmed says that he also participated in the National Games while representing the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in boxing. After spending three months representing the PAF, his contract with them was cancelled. “It was very disappointing for me,” he says.

“We young boxers are worried about our future. We don’t have any good opportunities in the government or private sectors for jobs on the sports quota anymore.”

Abdul Khaliq reminisces about his glory days
Abdul Khaliq reminisces about his glory days

The story of Allah Bux, another international boxer from Kalri, Lyari, is not very different from the others. “I started boxing when I was 14 years old. And I was rewarded soon enough as I got a job in the Pakistan Railways in 1993 on the basis of my talent. From 1993 to 1997 I represented Pakistan Railways in the boxing ring,” he says.

“I quit my job at the Railways as I got a better offer from the Pakistan Steel Mills. Then, after spending only one year with Pakistan Steel, I got a new offer from Pakistan Navy. I Joined Navy in 1998,” he says.

Bux won his first international bronze medal in South Africa in the World Military Games in 2005. He also participated in the South Asian Games held in Sri Lanka in 2006 and was awarded a silver medal there. “I was defeated by a Chinese boxer in the quarter-final in the World Military Games held in Germany in 2007 and I also lost in the quarter-final of the Asian Games held in Qatar in 2006,” says Bux.

“Still, I won five gold medals in national boxing events and four gold, one silver and one bronze in the National Games. But I was let off by the Pakistan Navy in 2012,” he says adding that it was because he had been absent from his job for several days. “But I had a good reason for my absence,” he says. “During the operation in Lyari against gangsters conducted by SSP Chaudhry Aslam, I was like a hostage in my own home for several days and couldn’t even go to my job,” he explains.

Bux says that he was not given a single penny by the department after getting fired. “I don’t even get any pension,” he says. “I have three children and I drive a rickshaw now in order to make ends meet.”

It seems, outside the ring, most of Pakistan’s boxers are on the mat.

The writer tweets @Zafar_Khan

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 16th, 2020