Pakistan boxers aim for unlikely Olympic success

Five Pakistani boxers have qualified against all odds to represent their country in the Athens Games.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:08 IST
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Pakistan's only gold medal in the Olympic Games has always come in field hockey. Boxing is not a sport that is immediately associated with the Asian nation, but five Pakistani boxers have qualified against all odds to represent their country in the Athens Games. From humble beginnings to the heights of the Olympic Games, these boxers have shown remarkable grit and determination. Not many boxers in the world will be seen trading punches in an open athletic field, but in Pakistan that has been the norm. The Asian country still lacks an indoor boxing ring but, despite these shortcomings, five boxers have qualified to represent Pakistan in the Athens Games. Ashgar Ali Shah will fight in the lightweight category, Meharullah in the bantamweight, Sohail Baloch in the featherweight, Faisal Karim in light welterweight and Ahmed Ali Khan in the middleweight. More than the Games itself, the boxers are looking forward to their first ever indoor stadium. "We had even requested Gen Parvez Musharraf to allot some land. He had done that but I don't know what happened after that. Now it is important for us to have an indoor stadium. We would rather have foreign boxers come over here to train instead of us going around to other countries to train. And if they come here, other Pakistan boxers can learn a lot from them," said Ashgar Ali Shah, Pakistani boxer in the lightweight category. Luckily, boxing is one of the most popular sports among some of Pakistan's neighbouring countries like Kazhakstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. All of Pakistan's Athens-bound boxers have been training in these countries, where facilities are far superior to their own. Having won all ten golds medals available in the recently held South Asian Federation Games in March, Pakistani boxers are full of confidence ahead of their Greek adventure. "We have been training for a while. In the recently held South Asian Federation Games (SAF) our boxers won all 10 golds. In the Olympic qualifiers, our boxers won 3 golds. So training is going well. But our main problem is the indoor stadium. Pakistan needs one indoor stadium, particularly in Karachi," said Ashgar Ali Shah. Pakistan's chances for a medal in boxing suffered a major blow when their best boxer Nauman Karim was banned after testing positive for drugs in March this year. The ace pugilist, ranked as Asia's best boxer at one point and considered a good medal prospect in Athens, was banned for a year. But that has not dampened the mood in the camp. Nauman's elder brother will now be the main medal hope for his country. 22 year old Faisal Karim has won many regional championships but is now keen to take on the boxers from Europe and Cuba. "It's a game, I will try to win. I'm not giving any assurance of any or loss are part of the game. But I will try my best to win a medal," said Karim. Karim and him team mates will not have it easy in Athens but the lack of facilities back home will not hold them back as they prepare for the competition. Pakistan's best Olympic boxing result was Hussain Shah's bronze medal in the Seoul Games in 1988 - a medal of any kind for Pakistan boxing in 2004 will surely be an admirable feat. The Boxing competition will run for the whole two weeks of the Athens Games. (AP)