From Olympic cycling hero to rickshaw driver in Lahore

Published: August 3, 2016
This photo taken on June 23, 2016 shows former Pakistani Olympian Muhammad Ashiq waiting for passengers in his auto-rickshaw in Lahore. PHOTO: AFP

This photo taken on June 23, 2016 shows former Pakistani Olympian Muhammad Ashiq waiting for passengers in his auto-rickshaw in Lahore. PHOTO: AFP

LAHORE: Former Olympian Muhammad Ashiq looks daily at the trophies he won in a glittering cycling career for Pakistan decades ago.

“Perhaps most people think that I have died,” he laments. “I just recall that I have shaken hands with… former Pakistani prime ministers, presidents, chief executives,” the 81-year-old tells AFP tearfully.

Ashiq, who competed for Pakistan at the 1960 and the 1964 Olympics, now scrapes by as a rickshaw driver in the teeming city of Lahore. “Why and how they all forgot me, I cannot believe,” he wonders.

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He began his sporting career as a boxer, switching to cycling in the 1950s when his wife complained about his injuries. He competed in Rome in 1960 and Tokyo in 1964 and though he won no medals, he was hailed as a national hero for Pakistan. “I was so happy… I considered myself lucky to represent Pakistan in the Olympics,” he says.

In this photo taken on June 23, 2016, former Pakistani Olympian Muhammad Ashiq holds his medals as he posses at his residence in Lahore. PHOTO: AFP

But when his cycling career ended, so did his luck. He took a PR job but left it for health reasons in 1977. He briefly drove a taxi and a van then bounced around several other small business ideas, but for the last six years has been reduced to driving a rickshaw, ferrying low-income passengers around Lahore’s bustling, choked streets.

He lives in a 450 square foot house on which he owes more than one million rupees ($9,500) — a near-insurmountable amount, given his rickshaw salary of roughly 400 rupees per day.

His wife has passed away, and his four children no longer live with him, he says, adding he does not want to be dependent on them.

He used to hang his medals in his rickshaw, but not anymore. Instead, the canopy is inscribed with a twist on the famous quote by former US President Calvin Coolidge: “Nations and states who forget their heroes can never be prosperous.”

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When passengers ask him about the message, he says he tells them his story — using it as a cautionary tale for the poor in particular, whom he warns never to take part in sports.

His wife and four children begged him over the years to stop thinking about his fall in life, he said. “Once my wife started weeping. I asked her why… She said she was just worried about my health.She told me to be happy all the time and forget those who forgot us. I said OK, and she became happy for a while. And after some period, she died.”

That was two years ago. Now, he says, his hands shaking, he too prays for death. “I pray… to meet my beloved wife in heaven. I think it is better to avoid this pathetic situation I have endured,” he says.

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Reader Comments (31)

  • nadeem
    Aug 3, 2016 - 10:06AM

    Almost moved to tears. But directly supporting a sport hero is not the state’s responsibility. The state could have only helped him to transition from a sports career to some other career where he could put food on the table. And the state could have given him and his wife health insurance. In this regard, the state has failed every Pakistani, not just him. The elites/rulers of this country will surely be asked about this criminal attitude on the Day of Resurrection. Recommend

  • Junaid Mahmood
    Aug 3, 2016 - 10:15AM

    Whats wrong is working for a living? Why do we have a mentality that he should be payed by the government on tax payer expanse?Recommend

  • Syed Zulfiqar
    Aug 3, 2016 - 10:37AM

    @Junaid Mahmmod: Do you really think that all of tax payer money is used for the benefit of masses. If so I will ask you please wake up. It is today’s Pakistan. Recommend

  • Haider Ali
    Aug 3, 2016 - 11:18AM

    He made me into tears :( May Allah give him patience and peace of heart to live happy. Recommend

  • Haji Atiya
    Aug 3, 2016 - 11:50AM

    @Junaid Mahmood:
    Have you heard of Panamagate or Dubaigate ? Recommend

  • Aug 3, 2016 - 12:26PM

    We are a nation who don’t value our heroes. It is sad that before this article I didn’t know about him, such is a dilemma of our nation which includes me as well. If state cannot pay him so at least give him his due share for which he is entitled undoubtedly. Recommend

  • shafi
    Aug 3, 2016 - 12:38PM

    junaid, becoz taxes r paid for welfare of society, NOT to build Raiwand Palaces .and he too pays taxes at least daily on petrol that run his AutoRecommend

  • Muhammad Hussain
    Aug 3, 2016 - 12:48PM

    @Junaid Mahmood – the tax payer money should be used on health education and for needy/ poor people. In welfare states like UK, Canada, some in EU, tax is taken from everyone (more from rich) and used for the welfare of people. This welfare concept is taken from Khulfa – e rashida model of bait-ul-mal. After WWII when UK economy was suffering, economists were asked to introduce a new model. They studied all the models ever applied in the history from Greek to Islamic caliphate and found that Hazrat Umar’s economic model of Bait ul Mal was the best every used in history of mankind. That model was chosen. It is also used in Norway and his name and model is written in their constitution – that is to take tax and used on poor and for the welfare. If this guy who is also a national hero needs financial help, he should be given by the state and tax money should be used for his help. thanks. Recommend

  • Ash Kumar
    Aug 3, 2016 - 12:57PM

    Express Tribune, it will be more appreciated by the general public if you announce YOUR contribution first and then ask the rest of the people to chip in. I am from India and I wonder how I can help. Gandhi to wahan nahi chalega!!
    And to all the people questioning him, please do understand that a sports person dedicates his prime towards perfecting his talent. He doesn’t have enough time to build his career elsewhere. Hence, the state should help them at this stage. Recommend

  • Ijlal
    Aug 3, 2016 - 2:37PM

    Can the author please tell me how to get in touch with this man? I would like to help him and give him an easy job as not to spend the rest of his days lamenting as to why he put his country before himself. Recommend

  • Aug 3, 2016 - 2:37PM

    Ashiq.Buddy you are an hero and all ways will be. Even living in such dire condition but still not giving up.You should be in Mayfair London or Jamierah lakes Dubai estate instead of these day time robbers in Pakistan. you still got your dignity but these rulers has prostitute there dignity for money.I wish if the story has some of your detail to see if some of us can scratch our pocket penny with you.Recommend

  • Haji Atiya
    Aug 3, 2016 - 2:56PM

    @Ash Kumar:
    Hear, hear ! Great comment ! Recommend

  • Ahsan Ahmed
    Aug 3, 2016 - 2:58PM

    I felt bad for him till this sentence “and his four children no longer live with him, he says, adding he does not want to be dependent on them.”

    Seriously stop blaming the Government if children can abandon their father.Our culture is one where families stick together, so not being dependent isn’t really a good reason. Recommend

  • Singh
    Aug 3, 2016 - 4:57PM

    But for the last six years has been reduced to driving a rickshaw, ferrying low-income passengers around Lahore’s bustling, choked streets.
    Is driving rickshaw a condemned job?
    Are Low income passenger not human?
    Point to ponder.
    If this is thinking then it is long road to progress.Recommend

  • Usman
    Aug 3, 2016 - 6:32PM

    @Singh: Completely agree. Lack of ambition and self pity never solved anything.Recommend

  • mirestan
    Aug 3, 2016 - 7:01PM

    He should be proud that he is working no Begging ?Recommend

  • Zara
    Aug 3, 2016 - 7:24PM

    We want to help him..please express tribune tell us how to contact himRecommend

  • Bunny Rabbit
    Aug 3, 2016 - 9:05PM

    You make the profession of a rickshaw puller sound menial and low . Recommend

  • quatro
    Aug 3, 2016 - 9:36PM

    @Bunny Rabbit:

    You make the profession of a rickshaw
    puller sound menial and low .

    I don’t think the article was meant to demean Ashiq but point out that Pakistan doesn’t value the contributions of it’s Olympic athletics. BTW – any occupation that pays $4 a day and only requires strong muscles would be considered menial. Recommend

  • Sam
    Aug 3, 2016 - 11:31PM

    This is very common and sad issue. We need proper plan and infrastructure to ensure athletes have some financial security. Recommend

  • Aug 4, 2016 - 12:26AM

    President Calvin Coolidge was, is and will remain 101 percent RIGHT. We Pakistanis are a callous lot and hypnotized in the opinions of ourselves.
    Ex-Olympian M Ashiq deserves more respect and CARING than the garbage that is dumped in the Assemblies. Where is the ‘Khadiim e aala’? Salams Recommend

  • Eman
    Aug 4, 2016 - 3:09AM

    I agree that he shouldn’t be paid BY the government but what I don’t agree with is his condition and the lifestyles he has been living in eve since he left the career he loved/ People like these should me re,membered they are part of how popular our country is now adays in the good ways and ofocurse for the good reasons. The least we could give him wass the satisacting that he was NEVER forgotten and the that is past deeds still hold the same respect in our hearts still this day.Also speaking of people saying that he is wrong to complain then please don’t because you don’t really know what he feels and for those who claim he is asking the government for money then please read it agian he never said that .He didn’t say anything about money. But if the government was to help they could easily give him a dignified job and maybe a house of his own. Though they didn’t do anything at all and that is the whole problem.Recommend

  • YourFriend
    Aug 4, 2016 - 9:12AM

    @Junaid Mahmood:
    He is 81, not 18 years old to carry bricks and earn a living for himself. He served Pakistan, if your lame govt servants can get pension from taxpayer’s money then why not him?Recommend

  • Aug 4, 2016 - 10:44AM

    He is our national hero and we need to take care of him. Any NGO or Government should take step to help him.Recommend

  • Ayati
    Aug 4, 2016 - 11:54PM

    Pakistan should have pension scheme for athletes who compete at international level. An old man should not be lamenting his past. He should be made proud of his achievements.

    In India, they have sports quotas in government jobs for nationally and internationally recognized sportsmen and women. Some associations give separate pensions for retired athletes. Recommend

  • Lotus
    Aug 5, 2016 - 1:00PM

    We at Karachi Rotary club took up few similar cases so as to rehabilitate humans,otherwise deprived due to some economic or social reasons,as a Project.One was trained as a photographer and provided cameras which made him earn a respectable livelihood thru making films and videos at marriage and social functions.Mr Ashiq at this age of 80 can be trained for a little public speaking at schools,TV channels,sports get to get hers,etc.He will be earn a reasonable amount thru this,but most important he needs some help in his introductions and projections on these forums.He can also be employed on some health club or fitness places as a guide giving motivational tips and pep talks.Telling all that he cared about his health, refrained from drugs and vices,hence kept his health and energy,thus became a national hero internationally!Recommend

  • Aqif Iqbal
    Aug 5, 2016 - 1:56PM

    Anyone having any idea where he(Muhammad Ashiq) lives in Lahore?Recommend

  • Anon
    Aug 8, 2016 - 10:20AM

    Beautifully written. Recommend

  • Anon
    Aug 8, 2016 - 10:22AM

    I think you missed the point. This is a man who isn’t driving a rickshaw because he wants to. He resents it. All too evident from the poster at the. Back. Recommend

  • Mahvish
    Aug 9, 2016 - 11:47AM

    Tribune would you please report that NetSol has taken him in as a sports ambassador? I guess not!Recommend

    Aug 30, 2016 - 12:57PM

    The nation and it’s leaders have failed miserably.The “National Hero” Muhammed Ashiq represented the country for the love of sports without expecting anything in return.When he is in financial distress with loan of One Million Rupees ($9500), whole world should help him.His prayer for death makes us all sad.Misfortune can come to any one.

    Can Tribune Express run a campaign to collect funds for Muhammed Ashiq the Olympic hero.Can you share his contact details with Bank account numbers so that we can help.Recommend

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