By Ijaz Chaudhry
I went to the final day of the Sher-i-Punjab Dungal a few days back. Staged at the wrestling stadium, Iqbal Park, Lahore, one was thrilled to witness the wonderful atmosphere. The 5,000 capacity stadium was filled beyond capacity.
Spectators, of all ages, had even come from outside Lahore: Gujranwala, Sahiwal, Sialkot, Bahawalpur, etc. There were a number of bouts on the traditional akhara (the mud arena) with the title bout, “Sher-e-Punjab”, obviously being the climax. A couple of duels involved kids not even into their teens.
The mud Akharas have served as a nursery for Pakistan’s wrestling and the grapplers from the mud Akhara have won the country many laurels in the international wrestling even done on the mat.
The wrestlers have done the nation proud especially at the Commonwealth games: of the total 24 golds in the history of the CW games, they have contributed an astonishing 22. But the sport has also brought Pakistan medals at the Asian games and even at the greatest stage, the Olympics. Yes, Pakistan’s first individual Olympic medal, a bronze, was garnered by Lahore’s Basheer pehalwan at the 1960 Rome Olympics; boxer Hussain Shah, also a bronze medallist in 1988, brought the only other individual Olympic medal to the country. Though our wrestlers still shine at the Commonwealth Games, their performance at the more competitive Asian arena has of late declined.
Pakistan had been a potent wrestling force at the Asian games. Pakistani grapplers won six gold medals at the Asian games with the last one coming in 1986.
Since then what to talk of gold, not even a bronze has been won at the Asian games’ wrestling.
As elaborated in the beginning, the enthusiasm is still there and sport enjoys good support. What should be done to make Pakistan shine again on the Asian arena and even the global stage?
Indian Badminton legend Prakash Padukone, father of the Bollywood diva Deepika Padukone, was the first Indian to win the prestigious All England Championship- badminton’s equivalent of Wimbledon.
When in his teens, Prakash Padukone’s precocious talent was noticed by the state government of his home state Andhra Pradesh and was sent to Indonesia, the most dominant badminton nation of that time along with Asif Pirpia, another highly promising shuttler of Karnatka. Padukone lived, studied, trained and played in the highly competitive Indonesian domestic circuit for a few years. Living, training, playing with and against world class players made Padukone a world class player himself and he reached heights untouched by an Indian before him.
Pakistan wrestling doesn’t need to look that far to far East. Our neighbours and friendly countries Iran and Turkey are great wrestling nations -almost invariably winning wrestling medals at the Olympics.
Arrangements can be made to send every year a batch of around 10 young talented wrestlers in early teens to Iran/Turkey to live, study and wrestle for three to four years. Learning and competing in the most competitive environs should help them grow into world class wrestlers and bring laurels to Pakistan.