With Imran Khan as PM, Pakistan athletes hope for ‘tabdeeli’ in struggling sports scene

PALEMBANG, Aug 19: Newly elected Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan promised “tabdeeli” (change) during his intense election campaign and its cash-strapped athletes are now heavily relying on the former cricketer to revive the struggling sport scene in the country.

Olympic sports in Pakistan have been facing acute shortage of funds and recently its hockey team threatened to pull out of the ongoing Asian Games due to non-payment of daily allowances.

The country’s tennis team arrived here only a day before the competition and that too without a captain and coach. The shooters, too, are not able to give their best due to lack of funds.

“The expectations are definitely high from Imran Khan. I have voted only for the second time in my life. He has been a champion sportsperson. He knows what it takes to be a successful sportsperson,” Pakistan tennis veteran Aqil Khan told PTI before a practice session here.

“I am confident he will do good for Pakistan sport but then he has so many other pressing issues to deal with. We will have to wait and see.”

Since there is no coach travelling with the team, the 38-year-old is doubling up as player and mentor to junior players in the eight-member team.

“I am also attending official meetings (he laughs) but it is okay. It is an honour to serve Pakistan,” said the Karachi-based Aqil who stopped playing on ATP tour long time ago.

“It is too expensive. You need a lot of money for travel, need to have a personal coach. I have a government job back home (electricity board WAPDA). I feel content,” added Aqil, who frequently played ITF tournament in India and also competed at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games.

The other members of the tennis team are much younger — Muhammad Abid and Muzammil Murtaza. They don’t get funds from their federation for training and competition overseas and rely only on personal sponsorship.

Abid wants to come to India to play ITF events but is facing visa issues.

“They said you only get diplomatic visa for India. We don’t know who to approach. We have met Indian players. They came to play in Pakistan last year and we also want to go and play there. Hope something can be done,” said Abid.

He also has high hopes from World Cup winning captain Imran Khan.

“I am (a) huge fan of Imran Khan. Inshallah, he will take the country forward. People have high expectations from him.”

Rifle shooters Minhal Sohail and Zeeshan Ul Shakir Farid want the new prime minister to support their ailing sport. In the mixed team rifle event, they failed to qualify, finishing 19th out of 22 pairs.

“I hear the Indian shooting budget is close to Rs 200 crore. Our federation gets only Rs 18 lakh for the entire year. We only train in Pakistan, you have so many foreign coaches. That is why you see Indian shooters doing well at the highest level. With Imran Khan coming to power, we can only hope for the better,” said Farid, who has also played in a World Cup.

Minhal, who became the first Pakistan women shooter to compete at the Olympics with the Rio Games, is hopeful of change too.

“We are positive. He will change Pakistan and Pakistan sport also,” the 23-year-old said. (PTI)