KARACHI: THE SPORTS CITY

ANISUDDIN KHAN
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Oct 3 - 9, 2011

The world at large and the people of Pakistan are aware that the southern coastal city of Karachi, the capital of Sindh province, ranks amongst worlds top twenty biggest metropolis. The city which once was the capital of Pakistan is the commercial engine of the country and contribute biggest share in national revenue generation.

In the rural areas of Sindh, sports infrastructure is too few and too little in pre-independence era. There were a few hockey grounds mostly located in Pakistan Railways residential colonies.

However, after independence Larkana hosted one of the biggest all Pakistan Moenjodaro Hockey for a number of years. The tournament, which attracted Olympians and top national clubs and departments, was an annual feature but for the last two decades the event has not been held because there is no interest amongst the organizers there to host the event. Sukkur however was a major football venue and it regularly organized all Pakistan football. However this event has also been discontinued.

Most of the people in Pakistan including Karachiites do not know that Karachi is also the biggest sports city of the country. It has unlimited sports facilities scattered across the metropolis. From deep East to deep West and from deep North to deep South, there are a number of sports facilities which are not fully utilized for various reasons including poor maintenance.

Interesting to note is that when Pakistan emerged as new nation in 1947 and Karachi was made its capital, the city had only a few sports facilities serving footballers, hockey players and cricketers. There was famous Karachi Goan Association ground at Bunder Road, which hosted football and hockey matches and sometimes weekend cricket matches were also played there. There was just one swimming pool at Karachi Parsi Institute. All hockey activities were held on the ground of the YMCA which also had two cemented tennis courts which organized national events. YMCA was also the centre of table tennis and basketball. However, clubs like Karachi Gymkhana also had tennis facility and cricket facility where English teams were entertained.

Jahangir Park located in the heart of the old city was the centre of all cricket facilities before and after independence. Due to neglect and encroachment, it was abandoned as cricket ground.

Muslim Gymkhana had a cricket ground and a snooker hall where all the national and international activities were held.

Hindu Gymkhana adjacent to Muslim Gymkhana was taken over by Pakistan Police and police quarters were constructed on its land. Fortunately, the main building of Hindu Gymkhana escaped being encroached miraculously. The biggest open space in the city called Polo Ground was used for polo matches before independence, hockey, football and other recreational activities were held there. On this venerated ground, Quaide Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah opened Pakistan's first national Games in 1948.

Football was main sport of the city. People living close to Karachi Port Trust or in the poor neighborhood of Lyari played the game passionately.

There was no proper football ground except on KPT land near the port where sailors of the visiting ships would play matches against local teams. A good number of players played the game. Some of them became known outside the city and played in Bombay.

Hockey had special importance in the city. Goanese community kept hockey live.

YMCA and St. Patrick's school kept the hockey flag flying. St Patrick's school had the honor of defeating on their own ground great Bhopal Wanderers when the team came here in 1944. There was one small golf course close to the cantonment railways station.

The course was given a bigger land where they created Karachi Golf Club located inside PNS Karsaz. There was a race course near Cantonment station. In mid seventies after horse racing was banned by Z. A. Bhutto government, there was no horse racing but in eighties a new land was allotted to Karachi race course in Gulistan-e-Jauhar where a new club was launched.

Before independence like any small city Karachi had few sports facilities but after independence there was slow explosion of sports and creation of sports facilities.

The first sports facility that came up was National cricket stadium which was specially built to host India on return test visit in 1954-1955. Located some distance away from the populated areas, the stadium was carved out of chalk hillock. General and VIP stands were not covered but the VIP stand was covered with shamianas (canopies).

This was the first international level facility that also hosted first test match on February 25, 1955 against India. Unexpected rains curtailed the match. Former prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan had ordered the construction of the stadium after Pakistan got the Test status and India accepted to play in Pakistan. Though the late former minister could not live to see the completion of the project but it was completed in record six months time.

Later in eighties when Pakistan co hosted the world cricket cup with India the old structure was removed and a new stadium built. The stadium was again modernized for second world cup that the sub-continent hosted.

After the national capital was shifted from Karachi to Islamabad somewhere around 1958 it was thought that Karachi would lose its charm as sports centre. However, contrary to the expectations sports infrastructure and facilities continued to grow in Karachi.

With the influx in 1947 onwards of population from those parts of India where sports was popular to Karachi and Pakistan, a large number of talented sportspersons arrived in the country.

Cricketers, hockey players, tennis players and wrestlers all opted for the new country and there was a sudden upsurge of sports patrons in Karachi.

Karachi, which in 1947 had negligibly barest minimum sports facilities, in 64 years has become one of the biggest sports city of the country.

KMC made the biggest contribution when it turned one of his small grounds the KMC football ground located close to Civil Hospital into a fine playing facilities. It remained centre of all national activities.

The biggest contribution to football came from former prime minister Benazir Bhutto who as a just reward to the poor neighborhood of Lyari ordered the construction of Peoples Football Stadium on Mauripur Road. This is first fully international facility with floodlights. The venue had hosted a number of international events including SAF football championship. The football stadium also has the biggest indoor gymnasium where even an international tennis competition could be held on Australian imported wooden floor and if a synthetic overlay could be placed over the surface it could become an international surface.

There are a number of football grounds in Lyari and distant places like Malir and Ibrahim Hyderi. Baloch Muhammeden football stadium at Sharaffi Goth is one of the best in the suburban areas.

KPT, which had always patronized football and ran a strong football team for over half a century, upgraded its football stadium into an international facility. The KMC in mid sixties utilized a barren strip of land running along Kashmir Road to set up a sports complex. It has country's first tennis complex and an international level swimming pool the only one in public sector. KMC tennis complex has country's first tennis stadium where a Davis Cup fixture against Malaysia was played. Players like Arther Ashe, Haroon Rahim, Saeed Meer and Illie Nastese have played at the stadium.

Tennis facilities are also available at Muslim Gymkhana, Karachi Gymkhana, Karachi Club, Karachi and NED Engineering University, DHA club and new clubs which have come up in DHA Phase VII.

Karachi also has the honor of getting an exclusive hockey stadium with Astro turf surface in 1979 when Air Marshal Nur Khan upgraded the Hockey Club of Pakistan located opposite Jinnah Hospital to host the second PIA Champions Trophy in 1980. Hockey was played at the YMCA and some other smaller ground around. When the martial law government in 1980 decided to allot big plots of land inside the city to construct sports facilities, Pakistan customs, NBP and UBL were the two institutions which applied and got the land allotted.

Pakistan keeping high its tradition of promoting hockey constructed a hockey complex on the allotted ground in Federal Area. It laid down an astro turf and created a seating capacity for five thousand spectators.

UBL used the land allotted to it for creating a first class cricket ground and hockey stadium with astro turf playing surface. It also has tennis courts.

NBP was allotted a plot in Clifton opposite the Mazar of Abdullah Shah ghazi where it had constructed an international level cricket ground with turf wicket and a gymnasium.

PIA created worlds first squash complex on Kashmir Road and took over the maintenance of Hockey Club of Pakistan. The squash complex unfortunately has been demolished none other than former world champion Jahangir Khan who had played there as youngster to make room for a sports club. Thus, a heritage building was destroyed as the country looked away.

In 1947, only two squash faculties existed in Karachi. One was Karachi Gymkhana courts and the other was at Navy's squash courts where Jahangir Khan got first lessons in squash from his legendry father Roshan Khan.

Navy at Fleet Club has created a squash complex with one championship court and four other courts. Defense Club in DHA phase VII has three side glass court which has hosted world events. Sindh rangers also have a good squash court at its sports complex in North Nazimabad. Private clubs also have squash courts. Karachi has enough water areas where water sports like yachting and rowing are held. National Sailing Club owned by Pakistan Navy has facilities for yachting. Rowing is held on China creek behind Beach Luxury Hotel. There is Karachi Boat Club and a Karachi Sailing Club.

Pakistan Navy has constructed a multipurpose sports complex inside PNS Karsaz. It has an international class rifle shooting range second in the country, an international size swimming pool, a football ground and Karachi Golf Course, which is a private club but as it is located on Navy property. Pakistan Navy has literally taken over the course.

DHA also has golf course. Arabian Sea and Country Club located inside Pakistan Steel Mills have one of the best golfing facilities in Pakistan and a floodlit cricket ground which has been designed on Oxford University ground. The club has recently started skeet shooting facility. Following is the list of venues of various sports in the city.