Switching allegiance

April 9, 2023

Pakistan’s top judoka, Qaisar Khan Afridi, has chosen to leave Pakistan and is now hoping to represent England

Saadi Abbas
Saadi Abbas

The other day I interviewed Pakistan’s top judoka Qaisar Khan Afridi for ‘The News’ and he shockingly revealed that he has left Pakistan and settled in England after being disheartened back home. He was speaking to me from London. He also said that he wants to play for England. He said that he spent Rs800,000 from his own pocket while featuring in the 2024 Paris Olympics Qualifiers in Abu Dhabi, Perth and Baku last year. He said that he had been promised by the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) and Pakistan Judo Federation (PJF) that he would be reimbursed this amount but it did not happen and so he decided to leave for England after extending his visa which he had got for the last year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. According to him he has joined Defence Judo Academy in London and also works at a shopping mall.

Pakistan Judo Federation (PJF) has already given its version. Its vice-president Masood Ahmed told me that they would reimburse the whole amount spent by Qaisar and other fighters and officials who spent from their pockets to meet the expenses during the Qualifiers in the three countries once PSB gives them the money it has promised.

Qaisar Khan Afridi
Qaisar Khan Afridi

It was shocking to me when Qaisar said that he served Pakistan for ten years but got nothing in return. It was Pakistan which made him able to go around the world and play in the international circuit. The Pakistan government spent a lot of money on him and he reached a level where he could compete with the world’s leading judokas.

Yes, the PJF and the PSB did wrong to force you to spend from your own pocket but after all you were Pakistan’s leading player and quitting your country after it made you able to compete at the top level is a cruel act. I don’t think the PJF will rely on any fighter in the future.

My sources told me that Qaisar had vanished in Perth where he had gone to feature in the Grand Prix but the PJF forced him to skip that option. It means that Qaisar had already decided that he would leave Pakistan and he eventually did that. The PJF has not been in contact with him since January.

The authorities should know that gone are the days when players loved their country. Now if you don’t give your players money they will seek greener pastures in Europe as we have been seeing for the last few years – officials and players vanishing in Europe.

We saw our two key boxers vanish in Birmingham after featuring in the Commonwealth Games last year and they are still there. Before them a swimmer vanished in Budapest hours after reaching there for the World Swimming Championship.

Pakistan is being used by players. Yes, there are many who are loyal and have sacrificed their entire lives for their homeland without earning much money. We have hundreds of such people who did not opt to leave their country despite getting opportunities to go to Europe, Australia or the US several times.

At a time when Pakistan is passing through an economic crisis more athletes will opt to look for greener pastures elsewhere. Although they cannot be stopped from doing so the sports-governing bodies will have to look after their athletes quite well and facilitate them in every respect so that they do not think about settling abroad during their peak playing age.

Yes, they can go abroad and settle there once they have served the country. They even can settle abroad during their playing careers if they keep playing for Pakistan. And we have an example of the country’s seasoned karateka Saadi Abbas who spent so many years in the UAE but kept playing for Pakistan and it did benefit the country as he won several major medals while using the best training facilities in the UAE.

Japan-based judoka Shah Hussain is another example.

It might be shocking for the PJF also to lose Qaisar who was emerging as a star after the two-time Olympian Shah Hussain who is now in the final stage of his solid career.

After this incident the PJF has now started focussing on cadets and juniors and definitely the federation will face a huge problem in regaining that strength which it was enjoying in the presence of Shah and Qaisar.

Shah is still there but he is carrying an injury and it might create big issues for him during the 2024 Paris Olympics Qualifiers journey. He is going to miss the World Championship in Doha this May because of the knee injury which will also affect his world and Olympics rankings.

I don’t think Shah is serious about getting a medal in this year’s Asian Games. The PJF should motivate him so that he plays for at least until Olympics 2024.

If he focuses he can create history for Pakistan as he will be able to feature in three successive Olympics.

Such things happen when athletes battle injuries and financial issues. At such times they need counselling and motivation. I think the PJF should motivate Shah and get the best out of him as he has loads of experience and can manage some good results.

If we go deep we will know that we have no big chance this time in the Asian Games for which our authorities are yet to devise any solid strategy.

Camps are expected to start after the National Games.

Our key hope Arshad Nadeem, the javelin thrower, is also doubtful. It is not yet known how Arshad will deliver in the Asian Games as he has undergone an elbow surgery and has not yet recovered.

The country’s top karateka Saadi Abbas is working hard in Canada but he is also not fully fit. Wushu fighter Maaz Khan and taekwondo fighters Haroon Khan and Shahzaib Khan are the ones who could press for medals in the Asian Games.

I will credit Pakistan Taekwondo Federation (PTF) which is doing well by keeping its fighters in constant training. The PTF also provided a 20-day training to its fighters in Iran recently and has kept two foreign coaches.

In kabaddi we will also need an all-out effort to ensure the medal this time as countries like Iran and South Korea have also developed their game a lot.

In squash, hockey, volleyball and shooting we can give tough time to the opponents but it all depends on how we prepare during the coming few months.

But we should not attach huge hopes with our athletes in the Asian Games as with the way our sports authorities are acting, medals cannot be won.


Switching allegiance