KARACHI: These days Lyari is synonymous with violence and gang war. But not too long ago, this volatile area of Karachi used to be a fertile sports nursery. Lyari has produced numerous footballers, boxers and cyclists, who have made Pakistan proud.
Though football is a hugely popular game in Lyari, the one sport in which this locality really excels is boxing. Lyari has the distinction of producing one of the only two individual winners of Olympic medals. Hussain Shah from Lyari won a bronze medal in the boxing event of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.
That’s the reason why Lyari is often referred to as ‘mini Cuba’ by visiting coaches. Cuba has over the years produced some of the world’s most talented boxers.
Unfortunately, the law-and-order situation in Lyari is taking its toll on boxing as well.
Even as many athletes from other sports joined battling gangs, the areas boxers have so remained steadfast and opted to stay in the gym rather than joining feuding gangs on the streets of Lyari. But information gathered by ‘The News’ reveal that rising unemployment, sense of insecurity and an acute lack of education could slowly push budding boxers towards the vicious cycle of violence.
While Ali Akbar Shah, an official of the Sindh Boxing Association, proudly declared that the boxers from the area are the only sportsmen who haven’t yet joined the gang war, Olympian Jan Muhammad reckons that the boxers’ future would be in shambles if the government does not intervene.
“The government needs to come forward and provide employment opportunities otherwise the boxers will lose this fight in their home town,” Jan Muhammad, who is terminally ill, told this correspondent.
The steady influx of boxers from Lyari into the Pakistan team has seen a massive decline over the years.
But the boxers do not believe that the poor law and order situation in the locality is the reason for Pakistan’s decline at the international level.
“It is because the boxers and coaches from Lyari are being neglected,” they said unanimously.
More than 14 boxing clubs are operating in the locality from Maripur to Chakiwara while a boxing camp is also being organised for teenage puglists.
Secretary of the Pakistan Boxing Federation (PBF) Akram Khan told ‘The News’ that unemployement and lack of education is the major problem faced by the boxers. Akram added that after seven youngsters featured in Sindh’s junior boxing team which recently won the PSB U14 Inter-provincial boxing championship, the SBA wanted the Sindh Government to provide scholarships to those boxers.
Majeed Brohi, an international boxer who runs his own boxing club, observed that due to the death of former International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) president Professor Anwar Chaudhry there has been a severe lack of boxing competitions at the domestic level.
He added that the “the murder of merit along with the practice of quota system” is destroying the image of boxing.
He was of the view that the death of Anwar Chaudhry was a major blow in the progress of boxing in Pakistan.
“It seems that boxing has become an orphan due to his death. Chaudhry sahib himself reached parts of Lyari to scout talent,” he said. “But now the situation is that the boxers, clubs, coaches and affiliated units of PBF and SBA inform us about the selection and trials when the process is nearing its end.”
As Lyari’s boxing community continues to count its losses, gone are the days when Pakistan’s Cuban coaches including Ismail Salas, Carlos, Rafaiel Ramees, Julian, Francisco used to make regular visits to Lyari looking for talent.