Tokyo Paralympics: Haider, Anila shoulder medal hopes

Pakistani para-athletes deserve more recognition, says NPC director Huma


Natasha Raheel August 21, 2021

KARACHI:

“Haider Ali needs prayers. He is competing in discus throw at the Paralympics Games for the first time, so he really needs the prayers of the nation. He is in his mid-thirties, he has been a legend and a role model and this time he really needs the prayers,” says Huma Mustafa Beg, Media Director for National Paralympic Committee Pakistan, as she has witnessed the journey of the paralympians herself.

Pakistan’s top athlete Haider Ali along with Anila Izzat Baig will be presenting Pakistan at the Tokyo Paralympics Games, as the two finally got the tickets just two days before their departure to compete at the top level in the world.

They left Pakistan with Fatima Imran Shami as the Chef de Mission on August 19, but Beg believes that the campaign this time will be tough for the athletes.

Ali managed to qualify for the discus throw event this time at the Paralympic Games, a first for him, instead of his popular event that is the long jump. But before going to Tokyo, the athletes and the NPC had been uncertain whether they would be able to send the players or not.

“We didn’t know because of the lack of funds and resources, and support from the government. There was uncertainty,” Beg told The Express Tribune. “Till two days ago, we didn’t know what would happen. We only got tickets two days before their departure. There is a lot of gap in how the country treats the Paralympics.

“While internationally Olympics and Paralympics are treated equally, in Pakistan they aren’t. In fact people don’t understand it at times too. They don’t understand that Paralympics is cut-throat competition.”

Ali has been an inspiration and a role-model for many. He became the first Pakistani to win a medal at the Summer Paralympics Games in 2008 in Beijing, where he won a silver medal and created a world record in long jump. He then won a bronze medal in Rio in the next Paralympics.

He and Anila, the latter being the wonder girl from Faisalabad, had booked their places in Tokyo after their stellar performances in Dubai in 2019.

Ali hails from Gujranwala and he has shown to be a prolific figure, winning international medals for Pakistan, but Beg feels that for his progression in his career, there need to be more opportunities.

Meanwhile, Anila is making her debut at the Paralympics. She was discovered by another athlete, who was meant to compete for Pakistan at the Paralympics Games, but could not due to limited resources.

“Our athlete Mudassir spotted her and he let us know. Anila is a talented athlete and she comes from a very humble background, where her family did not have even three meals a day. However, she persevered and today she is representing Pakistan at the Paralympics Games in Tokyo,” revealed Beg. Anila will compete in category F64 and Ali will be competing in category F37.

Beg also elaborated that the struggle for the paralympians is to find the resources in Pakistan, while as far as the Pakistan Government is concerned they are not supporting the NPC, even though the Prime Minister of the country has been a sports person. She added that the NPC cannot be a part of Pakistan Sports Board as like the Pakistan Olympics Association. It needs to be independent of the government influence.

“Our paralympians need support this time around. We are using the same kits that were used before. The government needs to sort the issue and support the NPC as we have to groom the para-athletes from across the country, but there are too many hurdles,” she said. “The para-athletes have won the country so many medals and laurels, but we still do not get the same recognition for them.”

Beg, meanwhile, recalled that Ali had to get his share of appreciation years later after his ground breaking achievement in 2008.

This time the tickets were arranged by the Provincial Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs Government of Punjab Rai Taimoor Khan Bhatti in urgency as both athletes are from Punjab.

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