Dying legends

Published April 15, 2012

Like his father, the former Pakistan football team captain Abdul Ghafoor, the son Abdul Ghani, too, was a great football player. His father, nicknamed ‘Majna’ by his fans, was unopposed captain of the Pakistan football team for 11 years (1974 to 1985). He was also known as the ‘Pakistani Pele’ due to his striking resemblance to the Brazilian player. But the similarities ended there. For, unlike the world over where footballers are treated like royalties and earn in millions, Ghafoor spends a very different life.

Today, seeing his father’s fate, his talented son has given up the idea of playing football himself. “I am taking care of my father, who is paralysed after suffering several brain hemorrhages, and I don’t have the time, stamina or energy to do anything else anyway,” he says.

“In his heyday, my father had many offers to play for clubs from many countries including India, Russia, Saudi Arabia and China, but he turned them all down in favour of playing in his country and for his country. He was also a member of the famous Dhaka Mohammedan Club in the former East Pakistan,” the son informs. “What has his being such a huge star done for him that I would want to follow in his footsteps?” questions the heartbroken young man.

Ghafoor is just one example of the misery that many of our former footballers, boxers and other sports personalities, other than cricketers and hockey players, are suffering. Former footballer Qadir Bux Baloch, nicknamed ‘Putla’ by his fans, broke down on being presented with a cheque to pay for his medical bills a few years ago. He didn’t like receiving help in the form of charity but it was either this or quietly dying in misery like his other colleagues Captain Omar, Hussain Killer and Turab Ali. Others, like ex-captain Nazeer Ahmed, also suffering from paralysis, lies helpless at home as his poor wife runs to their relatives for help. She can no longer pay for his medical bills.

Meanwhile, there are other proud former footballers doing menial labour such as selling papadoms or samosas to make ends meet. One former international footballer Hussain Jan ignores his reflection in the cars he washes by the footpath every day as he tries to forget his illustrious past in order go about his daily routine. The 70-year-old former star was once honoured by former President Ayub Khan and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for his game but today he is happy to make Rs20 to 100 in a day.

Boxers who have won laurels for their country have also met with similar fates. There is Olympian bronze-medalist boxer (1972, 1994) and Asian Games silver-medalist (1998) and the winner of eight other gold medals Ustad Jan Mohammad Baloch who is suffering from cancer and had to swallow his pride to accept charity from the government. Fmous Olympian Syed Hussain Shah, who was the only one in the Pakistan contingent to bring home a bronze medal from the 1988 Seoul Olympics when even our hockey team failed to grab a medal, has been wise enough to leave the country in search of greener pastures. Thanks to help from squash legend Jahangir Khan, this son of Lyari, who also happens to have five Asian Games gold medals under his belt, is leading a comfortable life as a martial arts and boxing instructor in Japan. The plots and other prizes promised to him by the government of his own country back in 1988 have still to come his way.

Last year, three other medal-winning international boxers, namely, Javed Jan, Zakir Hussain and Shoaib Rasheed stormed a KESC event launch to inform the media about the unfair treatment they received from their department. They were angry at being let off when the department decided to disband their hockey, basketball and boxing teams. When they were promised hefty amounts as golden handshakes, the men, who are illiterate, signed on the dotted line without thinking. It was only later that they realised that they were only given their dues for the past several months and nothing more.

Touched by their story and taking pity on them, Sardar Naveed Haider Khan, a sports official belonging to the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) promised to do everything in his power to help the men. Later, he arranged jobs for them in a catering company, which two of the three accepted as they had no other choice. Meanwhile, Jan had to decline the offer as the job would have prevented him from coaching the award-winning Sindh boxing team. He has also been forced to accept help from the government.

Though footballers and boxers denied their rights are in majority, there are countless other examples of athletes and sports personalities not getting their due. For example, not all the plots and cash awards announced for South Asia’s fastest woman Nasim Hameed soon after she took gold in the 100-metre race in the 2010 South Asian Federation (SAF) Games have actually reached the star. But being the polite young lady that she is, she chooses not to complain about it and is happy with the love and respect given to her by her people.

Yet, it is sad that after making their country proud many of Pakistan’s sports ambassadors have to hang their own heads in shame due to their circumstances. Who is to blame for this—the government, their respective departments or the people of Pakistan who have such short memories that they can’t even remember their heroes after a certain period of time?

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