Making us proud

February 9, 2020

After 15 years of persistent struggle, Lahore-born Usman Khan, who is based in Melbourne, is going to represent Pakistan in equestrian competitions in this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo

Usman Khan riding his horse Azad Kashmir

After 15 years of persistent struggle, eventually Melbourne-based Lahore-born Usman Khan made Pakistan proud by qualifying for this year’s Tokyo Olympics in eventing category of equestrian.

Eventing is a combination of cross country, jumping and dressage. Eventing is often known as the triathlon of the equestrian world. It is a truly complete sport that tests both the horse and the rider in all aspects of horsemanship.

This is the first time that Pakistan will have a rider of equestrian in the world’s most prestigious extravaganza.

In 2004 Athens Olympics, Pakistani rider Nadeem Noon had to feature on wild card but he missed the event after his horse got injured.

At the Wallaby Hill in December 2019 Usman and his horse Azad Kashmir did well to complete the CCI4*-L, finishing 13th and that was enough to earn their Minimum Eligibility Requirements (MER) and achieve Tokyo 2020 qualification. In qualifiers in September 2019, Usman ended 15th. In October 2019 at the Lynton Horse Trials in Goulburn the organising committee had agreed to run a CCI3*-L specifically for Usman and Azad Kashmir so that they could try and achieve an MER at this level, enabling them to compete at Wallaby Hill CCI4*-L.

The 38-year-old Usman, who has also worked in the Australian parliament as an IT consultant, has achieved the milestone on his own. He has no sponsors and what he has been earning is being spent on his growth in equestrian.

Usman, son of a retired Army Major, is a self-made athlete and believes in constant struggle. Having also played athletics as sprinter at national level Usman knows the importance of a sportsman who acts as an ambassador of a nation.

In 2006 Usman had a meeting with the president of Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) Lt Gen (retd) Arif Hasan in Melbourne. He expressed his desire that he wanted to represent Pakistan in Olympics. Arif, in response, told him that he must do this. For over a decade Usman did not meet Arif. He recently informed him through a message that he has qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Strong nerves, determination, valour, patriotism and self-earned money were behind Usman’s amazing success in the field of equestrian.

The name of the horse is Azad Kashmir which Usman would be using in Olympics. Usman had also qualified for the 2014 Incheon and 2018 Indonesia Asian Games with Al-Buraq but due to high travelling cost he decided against featuring in those major events.

Usman is again facing the same issue. Around 400,000 dollars is required for ensuring his Olympics’ participation. The horse will also have to be transported to Tokyo. His coach will also accompany him. He will have to pay all his costs within four months. It’s a big issue for Usman. As he has achieved the milestone for the country, it is now the responsibility of the Pakistan government to support him by meeting his financial expenses.

If the state supports other foreign-based athletes in their Olympics bids why can’t it do the same for Usman who is also a great asset of the country and has made the nation proud?

Without any support Usman has developed a course over six acre in Melbourne. He has hired a coach. And the amazing thing is that his coach lives 170 kilometres away from Usman.

Whenever Usman needs instruction he goes to his coach, gets advice and returns to his home to apply that in practice.

From 2007 to 2010 Usman did not ride as he exclusively focussed on earning money, which has now enabled him to qualify for Olympics.

Let’s ask Usman and he will let you know about the rest of the things.

“I am the only unpaid athlete of Pakistan who has qualified for Olympics. I have been spending from my pocket for years on the sport,” Usman told ‘The News on Sunday’ (TNS) from Melbourne.

“I had been working hard to achieve this target for the last 15 years. Nobody expected me to manage this, but I remained determined. When I met the POA chief General Arif Hasan in 2006 I promised him that I would take Pakistan into the Olympics in equestrian and today I am very happy that I have done this through the grace of God Almighty,” Usman said.

“It’s a tough game. I competed in a number of events, meeting all the costs myself. I will feature in a few more events to prepare for Olympics,” Usman said.

“I have done this not for myself but for my country. I don’t want to become the richest man of the world. Through the money I spent on this sport I could have purchased huge property in Pakistan but I wanted to do something big for my country as an athlete. This time I qualified for the world’s major Games and InshaAllah next time there will be talk of a medal,” Usman said.

“Between Tahajjud and Fajr prayers I am on the course. For the last five months I have not worked and instead focussed on my game. My vision was always clear. The cause is greater than myself,” Usman said.

“It’s a very expensive game, you know. For the last 15 years my annual expenses on the sport was around 150,000 Australian dollars. Personally I have spent so far 3.5 million dollars from my own pocket,” revealed Usman who will be the oldest athlete of the Pakistan’s contingent for Olympics.

As Usman has named his horse Azad Kashmir, India is trying to politicise his participation. Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has sought legal opinion whether the matter would fall under the purview of the Olympic charter Rule 50 which provides a framework to protect the neutrality of sport and the Olympic Games.

Pakistan’s sports authorities should take a firm stand as Usman has named the horse he bought in Australia last year Azad Kashmir while following the rules of Australian Equestrian Federation and international equestrian governing body (FEI) and also paid both bodies.

The writer can be reached at [email protected]

Usman Khan making Pakistan proud as he represents it in 2020 Summer Olympics