Pakistan’s unsung heroes

June 18, 2023

The sportspersons who excelled in their fields but didn’t get the appreciation they deserved

Pakistan’s unsung heroes

In the vast realm of sports, we find a class of exceptionally talented athletes with astounding achievements, yet their tales remain untold, and their names only echoed within their local communities. One of the fundamental constituents of motivation and encouragement lies in the act of recognition, and if no one casts a luminous spotlight on the inspiring accounts of these figures, there remains no incentive for the talented youth of Pakistan to come out and showcase their abilities on a national and international scale. But who are these unsung heroes and where do they come from? A common denominator amongst an overwhelming majority of them is that they come from humble beginnings.

Samina Baig is a name which may ring a few bells for some. A trailblazer in the field of mountaineering, Baig proved that nothing could get in her way of becoming the first Pakistani woman to climb the mighty Mount Everest, aged just 23, and the K2, this past year. Indeed, it were her spirits that soared as high as the Himalayas, which led to her conquests and enabled her to climb all Seven Summits and hoist the Pakistani flag on each peak. Indeed, Baig's journey illuminates the path for countless Pakistani women seeking to shatter the ceilings that impede their aspirations.

Pakistan’s unsung heroes

Another name that springs to mind in the category of uncelebrated achievers is Maria Toorpakai Wazir. With inspirational accomplishments in the realm of squash, including the prestigious 'WISPA' Young Player of the Year award in 2007 and a commendable bronze medal in the world junior women's squash championship in 2009, she established herself as a model for aspiring young girls to admire and emulate. For the first 16 years of her life, she was forced to dress as a boy to merely participate in competitive sports in her region, which mirrors the captivating narrative of Mulan, a tale that has resonated with us since our childhood days. The difference is that the latter is an idolised fictional character, and the former is a success-story originating from the tribes of South Waziristan.

While acknowledging the abundant Pakistani talent in renowned international sports, it is imperative to also appreciate the talent present in traditional sports such as tent pegging, polo, and kabaddi. Indeed, these are the sports which set Pakistan aside from the global community and give us that idiosyncratic edge which defines us as a nation.

A familiar name within this cadre of personalities is Malik Ata Muhammad Khan, or as they called him, Prince Malik Ata, a feudal lord who played an instrumental role in the advancement of tent pegging in Pakistan and achieved remarkable milestones. With his participation and victories in numerous tent pegging tournaments and other equestrian championships across Europe, US, South Africa, Australia and India, his invaluable contributions to the promotion of traditional sports deserve utmost admiration and recognition.

Hissam Ali Hyder, a prominent figure in Pakistan's polo scene, epitomises the country's tradition of producing exceptional polo players. Often regarded as Asia’s finest polo player, he was given the title of Pakistan’s most valuable polo player on six different occasions, and has won seven National Championships.

We also find an array of talented overseas Pakistanis, who despite remarkable triumphs, remain unrecognized. A recent example is that of the very first Pakistani to finish in the top 5 of a Formula 1 Grand Prix: Enaam Ahmed. The British-Pakistani participated in the ‘Firestone IndyNXT Championship’ and secured an impressive 4th place finish in the Alabama Grand Prix.

Enaam, 23, remains another example among the myriad of extraordinarily talented Pakistanis with boundless potential, eagerly awaiting the rightful acclaim and acknowledgment that will propel them to even greater heights.

Unfortunately, amidst the current backdrop of uncertainty and economic hardship, there remains little-to-no incentive to divert the attention of our folk to such unsung heroes and traditional sports. The only topic, the echoes of which are reverberated through all the narrow alleyways, the bustling markets, and the disheartened households, is how to bear the burden of this current economic depression.

Once we successfully overcome this roadblock, let us make it our paramount mission to provide a platform for these unsung heroes, whose talents have remained hidden in the shadows for far too long. It is through their achievements that we shall thrive as a nation, since along with their success comes international recognition and prosperity; factors which are intrinsically interlinked with flourishing countries.

Yahya Ali is an Islamabad-based freelance contributor. He is currently studying Law at Queen Mary University of London.

Pakistan’s unsung heroes