It is a nice day to be at the beach. The net is up. The wind blows through your hair as the tiny mica particles in your eyes make them sting. Still, they cannot come between you and the ball being slapped and tossed way up into the air as all eyes follow its downward drive, just before you or someone else on your side leaps to stop it from hitting the ground on your side of the net. Twice or thrice it is allowed to float around this side before a teammate sends it smashing over the net on to the other side.
Beach volleyball, lawn volleyball, court volleyball … outdoors or indoors, the sport is one of the most played sports all over the world with Pakistan being no exception to the rule. And yet it is not getting us anywhere in world standings.
“It may be a popular sport — volleyballs are available just about everywhere, in sports shops, in toyshops, and people are playing it everywhere — but on the national level, we are not doing good at all in volleyball,” says the former captain of Pakistan’s national volleyball team Naseer Ahmed.
“There is an issue of funds as the federal government and sports ministry does not provide enough. Also there is a problem with selections, as the national volleyball team has no players from Sindh or Balochistan, even though there are several very good and strong players there, because these are the places where beach volleyball is played also,” he points out.
All players in the national team hail from the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, creating the impression that perhaps volleyball is not as popular in the other two provinces. “Actually, there is a lack of interest among the provincial associations, even though there is no dearth of good players there,” he says.
Naseer, who hails from Shakar Garh, says that he has been playing volleyball since high school. “But I started playing at the national and international level in 2002. Of course, after school, I started playing for my district. Then by 2005, I also started playing for professional leagues,” he says, adding that, currently, he is part of the Wapda (Water and Power Development Authority) volleyball team.
Volleyball is one of the most commonly played sports in Pakistan, with much scope for its development. Then why is the country not shining in it internationally?
“In 2005, I went to Iran with the Pakistan volleyball team for a volleyball league,” says Naseer. “The Islamic Republic of Iran Volleyball Federation is financially strong and they provide proper monthly salaries to their players, along with all necessary facilities. Unfortunately, in Pakistan our players get no salaries or stipend. And you can see the difference. Iran’s volleyball team is at the top in Asia, while Pakistan is ranked seventh,” he says.
Worldwide, volleyball is played in more than 200 countries and Iran is ranked fifth in the world, while Pakistan is 46th. Here, the lack of support from the government, be it in funding or coaching is driving our players away from the sport. “And this is the main reason volleyball has not flourished in Pakistan,” says Naseer.
“Sadly, departmental sports are on the decline. The Police, National Bank of Pakistan, Pakistan International Airlines, Pakistan Steel Mills, and Pakistan Railways, along with so many other departments here, have disbanded their teams. It is hard to promote any sport in any country without spending on it,” he says, adding that at least one million rupees are needed for organising a training camp for players nowadays.
“Volleyball was not given importance like the other sports here,” says Sardar Muhammad Khan Durrani, a volleyball player from Quetta who joined the national volleyball camp in Islamabad in 2001 but unfortunately could not get selected for the Pakistan team.
“The selection process for the national team is very tough and, after a few days of camp, I was sent back home,” he recounts. “I played volleyball for more than eight years at the district and provincial level in Balochistan. Still, in Balochistan, football and boxing are bigger than volleyball,” he adds.
“I have been playing volleyball since childhood,” says Mubashar Raza, the current captain of the Pakistan volleyball team. Raza hails from Sheikhupura originally but he got his real volleyball exposure when he joined the Government College University Lahore. “I played for my college volleyball team and we won many district-level matches while in Lahore,” he says.
“In 2010, when I was in my second year of college, a tournament was held in our college where the chief guest happened to be Chaudhry Mohammad Yaqoob, who is presently the president of Pakistan Volleyball Federation. I must have impressed him with my performance, as he recommended me for the police volleyball team. I represented the police in several volleyball matches and put on a good show, which got me a place in the Pakistan volleyball team. I was a part of the national team which toured Dubai and Iran in 2011,” says Mubashar.
“In 2012, I joined Pakistan Navy and was instrumental in winning gold for the Navy team in the national event,” says Mubashar, adding that he has played both indoors as well as beach volleyball while helping his team win several medals. “My continuous good show in volleyball for the past 10 years helped me become the captain of the Pakistan team,” he adds.
“The sports ministry should set up sports academies, especially in Sindh and Balochistan and organise regular training camps there for the promotion of volleyball,” says Mubashar, adding that he believes Sindh and Balochistan have huge talent in the sport, which only needs a platform to come out.
“We try to select tall players. They should at least be six feet tall,” says Shah Naeem Zafar, secretary, Pakistan Volleyball Federation (PVF). Formed in 1955, PVF is affiliated with the International Volleyball Federation and Asian Volleyball Confederation.
“Players from Faisalabad, Lahore, Gujrat, Multan, Mianwali and Peshawar have good heights. It helps their game,” he says.
The PVF secretary says that they are seeking new talent from the rest of the country, too, for their junior, under-17, U-19 and U-21 teams. “There are people in Gilgit-Baltistan watching volleyball matches on television and playing in the mountain area. PVF is trying to promote volleyball in smaller areas. It will help us in our hunt for new talent,” he concludes.
The writer is a freelancer based in Karachi He tweets @Zafar_Khan5
Published in Dawn, EOS, December 20th, 2020