“My appeal to the nation is that they pray for me. I’m going to do my best to raise Pakistan’s flag high, win the medal and make Pakistan proud,” says Haider Ali, who is the only para-athlete to win Pakistan medals at the Summer Paralympic Games.
Ali’s event will be on September 3 as he will be looking to win a third medal at the Paralympics. He will be participating in the discus throw T37 final, and he feels that even reaching to Tokyo has been a journey filled with many troubles and issues.
The 36-year-old became the first Pakistan in 2008 to bring the Paralympics medal home and also made a world record with a 6.44 meter leap in long jump during the Beijing Games, and again proved his mettle in Rio in 2016.
So far, Pakistan have not won any Olympics medals since 1992, while Ali alone has won two medals, a silver in Beijing and Bronze in Rio, for Pakistan, a feat that has not been easy.
This time, like all the other events in the world that got affected badly by the Covid-19 pandemics and got delayed by a year, training for the Paralympics had been tough according to Ali, even though the Gujranwala para-athlete tried to make the best of the time and opportunities he had at hand.
“The training was very disturbed,” Ali told The Express Tribune. “It was disturbed because the facilities where we can train were closed because of Covid-19 pandemic, and we missed out on the days to train. Those were crucial days.”
“There were lots of challenges in training, but we kept going because we had to prepare for Tokyo.”
Ali feels that having the uncertainty in training was tough, but then the second set of problems arose with having no support from the government of Pakistan in helping the para-athletes travel to Tokyo.
Earlier the National Paralympic Committee (NPC) Media Director Huma Beg had shared that the tickets for the athletes were also bought just a few days before their scheduled arrival in Tokyo. The committee did not have any backing from the government in sending the athletes to the Games, but then the Government of Punjab helped in the end in facilitating the tickets, and most of the preparation was done on self-help basis.
Ali is acutely aware of the fact that Pakistan Government has not played the part that it should have.
“Training was a challenge, but when there came a time to participate in the completion, we faced so many issues to get to Tokyo alone. These were issues from the government,” said Ali.
Equal support, better results
Ali’s quest has been to assure that the country at least gives equal coverage and support to para-athletes like they give to the Olympians.
“My appeal to the Government of Pakistan is that Paralympics is the biggest event in the world, and to even get here and participate here is an honour. I have even won medals for the country. But the request is that the paralympians should get equal support, which the Olympians get, so that we can also train better, compete in a better way, give better results and make Pakistan proud. I am grateful to NPC, because of them I am where I am today. Because of the efforts by the NPC, I am in Tokyo today.”
Ali is not alone in asking for the support from the people of Pakistan.
Talha Talib, Pakistan’s top weightlifter who made the country proud as he finished fifth in the Tokyo Olympics 67kg event feels that Ali deserves all the support in his campaign in Tokyo.
“Ali is a hero. He is our brother and a legend,” Talha told The Express Tribune. “We see him train too, as he is from my hometown Gujranwala. Of course we are all supporting him, but more than that we are praying for him to win.”
The road ahead is a new one
Ali said that he wanted to play sports ever since he was a child, even though his right side is weaker than the left.
“By birth my right side is weak, but sports were always my passion. Even in my childhood I loved sports and when I found out about the NPC, I contacted them, and they supported me fully. Today I am here, and I have won medals in Rio and Bejing,” said Ali.
However, unlike Beijing and Rio, Ali has changed his main event from long jump to discus throw now. He had competed in discus throw in 2008 Games where he finished fourth, but this is the first time he is only competing in discus throw.