Pakistan has disappeared from the international cycling scene, with its national governing body suspended internationally for more than a decade now. Political rifts and division in the Pakistan Cycling Federation (PCF) — which has produced several groups or factions — has left the country’s cyclists pedaling uphill on flattened tyres. So many of them are unable to participate in international events, with not even one proper national federation to look into their affairs or work for the betterment of the sport.
“Cycling was a proper sport in Pakistan in 1949,” says one PCF — there are three PCFs — President Syed Azhar Ali Shah. He adds that, despite being an expensive sport and shortage of funds, Pakistan’s cyclists used to participate in international cycling events.
But due to the parallel cycling federations coming up now there is a big confusion at the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the world governing body for sports cycling, which oversees international competitive cycling events. Simply put, UCI does not know which federation to recognise as the authentic body of Pakistan.
Shah explains the events leading up to the divisions. “Khawaja Idrees was elected general secretary of the PCF from 1995 to 2010. He worked for the betterment of cycling in Pakistan but after I was elected president of the PCF in 2011, Idrees broke away and formed his own parallel PCF,” he says.
“Now, there is also Malik Kaleem Awan, the joint secretary of another PCF faction. He runs his federation from Sindh,” says Shah.
The many parallel bodies of the Pakistan Cycling Federation have confused the government and the international cycling body while ruining the careers of promising cyclists here
“We were not allowed to participate in the National Games or any other local cycling events because we are not affiliated with the Pakistan Olympic Association [POA],” he says, adding that they are, however, affiliated with the Pakistan Sports Board.
“Cycling in Pakistan has nosedived due to such political rifts,” Shah says, pointing out that there is only one velodrome in Pakistan, which was constructed in Lahore back in 1954. “Whenever there is a cycling event there, we have to spend at least half a million rupees on the repair and renovation of this velodrome ourselves,” he points out.
Says Malik Kaleem Awan, the joint secretary of the third parallel PCF faction, that the government and the POA do not support Shah’s PCF. “Our federation is authentic and Pakistan’s government supports us,” he claims.
He says that his faction is the one affiliated with the POA and that their PCF can use Pakistan’s name at the international level. Both his and Shah’s groups have imposed bans on each other in different events of cycling in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the split between the PCFs has put a big question mark on the future on Pakistan’s cyclists. While the various factions themselves indulge in their own blame games, they are not thinking much about the cyclists.
“Pakistan is no longer competing in international cycling,” he says. The last time a Pakistani cyclist won anything abroad was a bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics of 1964.
“The UCI is a professional body. We have written emails to UCI’s management not to issue any cards or licenses for international cycling events to the ‘fake’ parallel factions of Shah’s PCF. We have also taken Shah to the Islamabad High Court for the formation of a fake PCF,” says Kaleem.
“In the meantime, we are organising cycling events locally. There is the Tour De Pakistan for our cyclists to take part in,” Kaleem says, adding that his federation also has support from the Pakistan Coast Guard, the Federal Government and the private sector. “There should be another velodrome in Pakistan but that would need approximately 150 to 200 million rupees in funding,” he adds.
He also says that if they want to bring Pakistan back into the international cycling scene, they need to set their own differences aside and work jointly for the betterment of Pakistani cyclists.
“Cycling was not only a sport for me, it was my passion since my childhood,” says Mohammad Irfan, a young national cyclist.
Born in 1996, the 24-year-old Irfan started his cycling career in 2011 from the Shaheen Cycling Club in Orangi Town. “I represented my club till 2014 and participated in different cycling competitions during this period,” he says.
In 2012, he participated in the National Games and won a bronze medal. Then in 2013, he won the gold medal in the Sindh Olympic Games, followed by two more gold medals at the Karachi Games in 2015 and 2016 and another bronze at the National Cycling Championship held in Karachi in 2017. Also in 2016, he participated in a cycling race from Karachi to Gwadar, organised by the Pakistan Coast Guard, his first experience of its kind in which he also finished first to take the gold medal. “The tally of medals was a tremendous start for my career. My family, colleagues and trainers were very happy for me,” he says.
But then life took a new turn. Because of his family’s financial problems, Irfan quit both cycling and his studies to take up work in a cycle repairing shop. “I have to earn to support my mother. I make 400 to 500 rupees daily at the shop,” he says.
Cyclists in Pakistan, no matter how good they may be, don’t enjoy the status and stardom of cricketers. They cannot fulfill their dreams without the support of their federations and the government.
Abdul Aleem, 26, another young cyclist here, says that he is very disappointed by the poor performance of the PCF and even the Sindh Cycling Association, as both are not doing anything for the betterment of cycling in Pakistan. “I started my career in 2010 and participated in different national and provincial cycling events,” says Aleem, who hails from Mawach Goth and now works at a catering house or pakwan centre.
“I was in an accident in 2012, when I was on my way to Hyderabad from Karachi, during a national race in which I was representing Pakistan Railways. My bicycle broke during the race and I fractured my leg,” says Aleem, adding that, after the accident, he was not even paid a single penny for his treatment, by either the Pakistan Railways or any cycling federation or association. “I spent almost one year recovering and I had to quit cycling as my family was suffering and needed a breadwinner.”
Mohammad Habib, 38, another national-level cyclist, says that he had won gold medals in the Sindh Cycling Championship in 2014 and 2015, along with three bronze medals for Sindh in the National Cycling Championship, held in Lahore in 2016. “Cyclists in Sindh are very disappointed and unhappy with the harsh attitude of the PCF and the Sindh Cycling Association, as both ignore cyclists and do nothing for their welfare or jobs,” says Habib. He now works as a security guard in a factory near the Northern Bypass in Karachi.
“I am first a cyclist and I want to continue my career as a cyclist. But until the world body on cyclists recognises one main federation in Pakistan, we can only compete in international events individually, by using our own money,” Habib explains. “Unfortunately the many factions of the national body also confuse the government as to which federation are they to give funds to?”
The writer tweets @Zafar_Khan5
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 29th, 2020