Dec 10 - 16, 2012

Pakistan has won world crown four times in hockey, umpteen times in squash and twice in cricket and snooker which unlike other games hardly has any significant following in the country.

It was eighteen years ago when Muhammad Yousuf won the first world amateur snooker crown for his country in Johannesburg in 1994 and a week ago Muhammad Asif from Faisalabad repeated that feat in Sofia Bulgaria when he won the IBSF championship outplaying Gary Wilson of Great Britain by ten frames to eight in 2012 edition of the event. It is strange coincident that when ever Pakistan had done well in snooker and won the world event Pakistan team playing top class hockey in Australia at the same time had also done well.

In 1994 two days after Muhammad Yousuf won the world crown Pakistan team under mercurial Shahbaz Ahmed won the Sydney world cup fourth time for Pakistan.

Pakistan hockey team currently playing in the elite Champions Trophy in Melbourne against all expectations had qualified for the semi final defeating Germany 2-1. The team is just two steps from winning the Champions Trophy first time after many years.

If it wins the coveted hockey title in Melbourne it will be the repeat of what happened in 1994. If it happened it would be the strangest coincidence in sporting history of Pakistan.

Pakistan is not a sporting country but it certainly is sports crazy and since its inception it has produced sportsmen of high caliber who made a name for themselves in the sports record books of the world. The greatest sportsman that Pakistan produced was Jahangir Khan who won the British open ten times and the world championship eight times, Jansher Khan who replaced Jahangir as world championship could not match the record performance of his illustrious compatriot but he also won the British open and the world championship for a number of times if not as many times as did Jahangir.

Pakistan won the first world hockey cup which it had initiated in 1971 under the captaincy of Khalid Mahmood in Barcelona and in 1978 Islahuddin became the second captain to clinch the championship in Buenos Aires. In 1982 Akhtar Rasool won it third time in Bombay and Shahbaz Ahmed fourth time in 1994.

Pakistan won the world cricket cup in 1992 under Imran khan in Melbourne and the T20 world cup in London under Younis Khan. However winning the world amateur snooker crown is some thing unique. Snooker had no big following and when the country won its independence there were handful of snooker players mostly located in Karachi where the Goan Christian community played it more than any other community. In top clubs of Karachi like Sindh Club, Karachi Gymkahana, Muslim Gymkhana and Karachi Club and Goan Gymkhana the game was played as afternoon leisure sport. In these clubs there were professional players who would give training and play as partners with the members. Some of these markers became national championships which was held of and on and not regularly.

However the game took a huge upward jump when Asghar Valika became the president of Pakistan Billiards and Snooker Association. He and Karachi Club where he served as president for a number of terms gave boost to the game. Managing committee of Karachi Club provided free entry to the players and allowed them to enjoy all the facilities of the club without being the member.

Asghar Valika who hails from the famous industrialist family of Valikas used the Karachi Club platform to organize championship. In a few years time Karachi Club became the hub of snooker in Pakistan. And when Lakson Tobacco company and his marketing director Shahid Ali Khan came in contact with Asghar Valika the financial face of the game suddenly changed. The money flowed like water when Lakson Tobacco decided to support the PBSA. Not only at domestic level but at higher international level Lakson Tobacco helped PBSA to host world and Asian championship. Millions of rupees were spent by the sponsors to fund these championships.

Pakistan became a major player at the Asian level in snooker and Asghar Valika held offices at Asian as well as world level.

Snooker in Pakistan prospered with the funds coming from Lakson Tobacco and Karachi Club providing the base for hosting events. And when Lakson Tobacco was not allowed to fund sporting event after a ban was imposed on TV coverage of sports financed by tobacco companies, snooker suffered a great set back.

By that time PBSA had already made a name and small sponsors came forward to support the national team. Victory of Muhammad Yousuf in 1994 proved that Pakistan has potential to do good at international level. Government which had doled out small annual grants to the PBSA suddenly raised that grants in aid but it still remained far less than the needs of the annual budget of the PBSA.

Hard times fell on PBSA when Asghar Valika left the top position of the PBSA in favor his active and energetic lieutenant Alamgir Shaikh. The new president started his stint with a huge financial handicap but still he managed to run the game bringing sponsorship though small ones.

The sports suffered another set back when for some unknown reasons Karachi Club stopped all PBSA activities at its prmises. No body had any clue what made Karachi Club take this drastic action against a sport which it had nurtured to become a big sports in Pakistan. Some say that it happened when the PBSA of Asghar Valika allegedly sold a gold trophy kept at Karachi Club without permission of the managing committee which infuriated some influential of the club to raise funds for the PBSA. Some believe that it was clubs politics that caused the suspension of sports at Karachi Club.

What ever is the reason snooker was the victim. Under this bleak back ground the PBSA led by Alamgir Shaikh produced a world champion in Muhammad Asif who along with his teammate Asjad Iqbal went to Bulgaria. The two had qualified to play for Pakistan in the world event because they had played the final of the last national championship which were announced as trials to pick the team for Bulgaria.

Pakistanis are large hearted and they not only give honor to their heroes but they also shower money on them.

When Asif reached the final president of Sindh Snooker Association Jamil Sakrani announced cash award of Rs. 0.1 million to Asif though he had not won the title till then. Chief Ministers of Sindh and Punjab have already announced cash awards of Rs., one million for the new champion. Karachi Club forgot all the opposition with the PBSDAS and announced Rsa.0.2 million for Asif and an honorary membership for a brief period of time. The PBSA has requested Pakistan Sports Board to announce Rs. Ten million for Asif as per its rule which stats that a player winning the world championship of a gold medal at Olympics and Asian games would be given Rs., ten million.

Muhammad Asif deserves all the accolade and financial awards. One hopes that the industrialists of Faisalabad, the home town of Asif will open their arms and wallets to reward the son of that city.