Lyari’s female boxers: Punching their way out of fear and taboos

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KARACHI: Sardar Uzair Jan Baloch, a gang leader in Karachi’s infamous Lyari Town, and his comrade Noor Muhammad are playing football with the severed head of rival gang leader Arshad Pappu.
Pappu is taken from a posh neighborhood while partying with friends. He is tortured, tied to a car and dragged through Lyari’s narrow streets.
His corpse is thrown on a donkey cart and paraded around before it is burnt and flung into a gutter.
Just 1 km away from where this savagery is perpetrated, Nawab Ali Baloch, a former international boxer, is training nearly a dozen of his female family members.
“There was no concept of women boxing in Pakistan before 2013, when I started training female members of my family,” he told Arab News.
He joined the Pak National Boxing Club in 1952, but left after 20 years to pursue other employment prospects.
Yet he never stopped training boxers, and when no one was around to attend his camp due to fierce gang warfare in the town, he started training his female relatives.
When the number of his students grew, he took them to the Young Boxing Club, where he now trains 48 females aged between 7 and 30.
His club secured eight gold and silver medals in the first boxing championship for women on Nov. 5.
“These girls have never given up. Even when the gangs were fighting, they always attended the classes on time,” he said, adding that there are four boxing clubs in Lyari.
In April 2015, a local female member of Sindh’s provincial assembly, Sania Baloch, suggested that there should be a proper focus on women’s boxing.
Asghar Baloch, general secretary of the Pakistan Boxing Association (PBA), told Arab News: “In May 2015, we announced the Women Boxing Camp in collaboration with the provincial sports department. The response was overwhelming.”
Maria Baloch, 12, has only been participating in the sport for two and a half years, but has already won seven gold medals.
“I used to watch Mohammed Ali on YouTube,” she said. “He inspired me to become a boxer.”
Recalling the challenges she faced, she added: “Although my family supported me from day one, many of my relatives talked about my passion negatively. They thought it wasn’t right for a girl.”
She said her father also opposed the idea since he thought she might get hurt. “I was taught to give equal importance to education, and I try to focus on both,” she added.
Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, daughter of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the UN ambassador for polio eradication, recently visited the Young Lyari Boxing Club.
“I can’t tell you how happy she was to meet with these girls,” Naz Baloch, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, told Arab News. “Her presence also increased the motivation of the boxers.” Zardari said she was going to provide the girls with equipment and other resources.
Maria said it was an unforgettable moment for the girls, adding: “We had attracted an important political figure to our town.”
Rauf Baloch, former president of the Karachi Boxing Association, said terrorism had caused a lot of damage to the town.
“It ended our education and destroyed our social values,” he said. “Our sports activities also came to a standstill. Fortunately, peace has now been restored to this place and good things are happening to its people.”
He added: “In the good old days, this town was known for football, boxing and other sports. It produced international players, and our clubs provided sports and ethical training to our children.
“In boxing, you get punched and you hit others. It’s not an easy game, but the way our girls are playing is simply awesome. I’m confident we’re gradually reclaiming our old Lyari.”
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The flower of cricket blooms in war-torn Afghanistan

 Samiullah Shenwari, Mohammad Shahzad

Youths turn away from suicide bombing as Afghan cricket advances unparalleled

 

Naimat Khan

JALALABAD: The game of cricket had captivated the attention of the Afghan nation much before the world witnessed it national side’s heroics at the 2016 World T20 tournament.

The associate Afghanistan, the side which beat the World Champions West Indies in the T20 event, received a hero’s reception at the Alokozay Kabul International Cricket Stadium upon arrival. They were honored by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani with civil awards.

“You do not only give honor to the Afghan nation, but hope,” the president said, while decorating the heroes with Ghazi Mir Masjidi Khan Excellence Award in a reception held at the presidential palace.

Though Afghanistan only managed to win against Windies, they won the nation’s hearts.

On a chilly winter evening much before the World T20 began, hundreds of youths gathered in Pashunistan Chowk, Jalalabad on December 29, 2015 to watch the second One Day International between Afghanistan and Zimbabwe on big screen.

Jalalabad, the capital of eastern Nangarhar province, is considered as one of the most dangerous provinces of Afghanistan, where six districts are under influence of the militant Islamic States (IS) group.

The same province is now emerging as the hotbed for cricket in Afghanistan.

Karim Sadiq is one of the pioneers of cricket in the provincial capital, and was also the part of the squad featured in World T20.

When this scribe contacted Sadiq in late January this year, he seemed confident of his teammates.

“The historic win against Zimbabwe has boosted our morale and we are confident we will compete the full members of ICC,” he told this scribe before leaving for India to participate in the 2016 Asia Cup.

Although it couldn’t record any win in the Asia Cup, the young Afghan team left no stone unturned in World T20 – won all three matches of the qualifying round and beat the Windies – the champions.

“In recent years, Afghanistan have defeated some powerful teams,” said team captain Asghar Stanikzai in post-match presentation, adding, the team will witness more wins in the years to come.

From nothing to heroic

Ibrahim Momand, a Kabul-based sports expert recalls how in the 90s Pashto language daily Wehdat had stories on the Afghan cricket team visiting different districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan.

However, the soccer enthusiast Afghans didn’t even know a national cricket team existed till they won six of seven matches they played with different counties of the United Kingdom.

Afghans became attracted to the game when the national side beat Ireland in the qualifying rounds for the 2009 World T20 tournament.

However, the success wasn’t at all possible without support of the Afghan government, and the cricket board.

Sadiq says government ministers facilitate the Afghanistan Cricket Board.

“The board has funds and provides facilities to the players, attracting new talent,” he says. “Former president Hamid Karzai separated cricket from other games and established the board. Dr Ghani has also supported the team.”

Sadiq adds, “We have two grounds, each in Kabul and Jalalabad. A stadium will also be constructed in Khost. It may take long to host international sides but the grounds will improve domestic cricket.”

Learning from legends

Afghanistan is also thankful to Pakistan for its role in uplifting the game for them.

“We are thankful to Peshawar Cricket Association, which would allow two Afghans each in their club teams,” says Sadiq.

Sadiq says the training given by former Pakistani players such as Kabir Khan and Rashid Latif greatly impacted their game.

“Inzimamul Haq’s coaching helped us defeat Zimbabwe, Sadiq says. “We are appreciative of our Pakistani coach, who has worked hard on improving our batting technique.”

Once soccer, cricket has now become Afghanistan’s popular sport; attracting young, elderly and the women alike.  “Victory in a war-torn country brings happiness and pride,” a cricket enthusiast Sayed Kamal Sadat said.

Peace for cricket and cricket for peace

JalalabadCricket Fans from different districts of Nangarhar Province gathers to watch second ODI between Zimbabwe and Afghanistan on Big screen in Pakhtunistan Chowk of provicial capital Jalalabad: Photo Credit/Bashir Ahmed Gwakh

 Experts say Afghans do not spare revenge, and cricket is an alternative, positive exploit for the Afghan nation.

“A caller once told me he was ready to become a suicide bomber but it was cricket, which changed his mind.”

Cricket spoils brainwashing efforts of the militants, he says.

“A caller once told me he was ready to become a suicide bomber but it was cricket, which changed his mind.”

“If cricket is vital for peace, peace is also vital for cricket in Afghanistan,” says Sadiq. “A better security situation will help us host different teams in Afghanistan, where local crowd would support us”.

Ground ahead

Inzamam, Afghanistan’s batting coach, in a post-match briefing praised his team’s self-belief, and reiterated the call for more opportunities to play against the Full Members.

“All our previous matches have been neck-to-neck,” he said. “There haven’t been one-sided matches, it’s not like a team makes 200 against us and we are all out for 100 or 150. The team has been fighting, and the belief is always there”.

Afghan skipper Asghar Stanikzai adds,”In the next one or two years we will be a serious team and beat these Full Members. We have potential.”

After overpowering the Associates, it seems Afghans will soon achieve the target of joining the Full Members club of the ICC.

Published in The Frontier Post