Table tennis is losing popularity in the country and the sport now stands to lose players too.
Former national champions were left jobless when their department – Habib Bank Limited – disbanded the men’s team — with national doubles champion and Pakistan number three Yasir Bhatti, who won more than 20 events for the department, struggling in life and the sport despite his ping pong skills and an agriculture engineering degree.
Apart from Bhatti, who was at HBL for 12 years, Ahmed Hussain and Asim Aziz are among the others affected by the annulment of contracts which, technically, is a legal move given the terms and conditions. The disbandment of the department team means that these players cannot participate in national championships anymore and are left without any sort of financial compensation either.
“It’s a shame really,” Bhatti told The Express Tribune. “How is being the country’s number three helping me when I have no job? How will I look after my family now? They fired us without any notice. It’s true that we were hired on a contractual basis but is that all I deserve after giving my best years to this department?”
No compensation but
a cashier’s job
According to Bhatti, being a table tennis player, he had to pay the price. He said that the department also disbanded its hockey team, but those players received a fair amount of compensation but table tennis, being a smaller sport, was overlooked.
Bhatti, as compensation, was offered a cashier’s job in Jhelum, one that he was forced to turn down since he lives in Jhelum with his family and moving away, for a job not so lucrative and exciting, was something he did not want to do.
“A sportsman is a sportsman, whether it’s hockey or table tennis. It’s sad and shook me that as a table tennis player, my department just threw me out. I’m also an agriculture engineer but I never pursued that path because I’ve played table tennis all my life. The department is still running its women’s team so I am not sure why it was only the men’s team that was disbanded.”
Win laurels, get sacked
Reiterating Bhatti’s views was Aziz who now has to move back to his hometown Lahore after playing in Karachi. According to him, the department’s decision came as a shock since he was hired on the basis of his performance.
“I had won the national championship’s doubles event for HBL so them telling me that my sacking is part of downsizing, doesn’t satisfy me,” said Aziz. “It leaves me nowhere.”
‘HBL working within its rights’
Meanwhile, according to HBL’s sports head Brig (retd) Mussaratullah Khan, the decision was based on HBL’s corporate policies and the sports department could not do anything.
“The players were hired on contractual basis and when it was time to axe some, we got rid of these ones,” said Khan. “The sackings were within our policy and as far as the hockey players were concerned, they had different contracts. We don’t discriminate between sports.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2012.
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