Pakistani athletes are eager to make history, but government-imposed limitations make it difficult even before their Asian Games adventure begins in Palembang, Indonesia.
Pakistan will make their sepak takraw debut at the Asian Games, with the six-man squad from the 15 nations competing for gold at the event.
Pakistan only competes in the men’s competition and the team self-finances its participation in the Games since the Pakistan Federation Sepak Takraw is not affiliated with the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB).
However, team coach Dr Muhammad Arif Hafeez – who is also the president of the Sindh Sepak takraw Association – said he was trying to get help from PSB but so far, there was not much to add.
“We are going to the Asian Games on August 23,” Hafeez told The Express Tribune. “We prepared for the event and hoped the government would help, but they didn’t. However, our athletes still represent Pakistan. We are all trying to cover the expenses of participation on our own, and it’s a huge challenge that we have to overcome before we even go to the games. Everything is expensive, from plane tickets to accommodation. Everything is getting more difficult but we are trying. “
Hafeez said the team are well prepared and optimistic about their chances of winning a medal. “We can expect a bronze medal at the Games,” he said. “This is our first time playing the Asian Games, and the competition is incredibly difficult since sepak takraw is a Southeast Asian sport. It is challenging at all levels, level and, with top teams like Thailand, Malaysia and China it won’t be easy India is also a better team than ours and we also have Iran.
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The coach further highlighted the difficult nature of the tournament, calling it even more competitive than the World Cup. “I can safely say that the sepak takraw event of the Asian Games is more difficult than the world championship because here you don’t have easy opponents to face.”
Sepak takraw is a traditional sport of the nations of Southeast Asia. Each team has three players competing on a 13.4 x 6.1 meter field separated by a net that is 152 cm (men) or 142 cm (women) high. Sepak takraw was first featured at the Beijing Asian Games in 1990 and has been a regular feature ever since.
The Pakistani squad includes captain ShabbirAhmed, Hameed Shahid, Hussain Ahmed Khan, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Sheraz Asif and Abdul Basit, Hafeez being the coach and Arif Waheed Khan the team manager. Hafeez added that the game has gained many followers in Pakistan over the years, but the visibility at the Asian Games would do more to promote the sport.
“People will learn that we exist too and that this game is played as well,” Hafeez said. “It’s a new sport, but in Pakistan, players come to training camps and they are interested. All our players on the team have also never played another sport before and they chose sepak. takraw as the main sport, and that’s a good trend. “
The team will depart on August 23 for Indonesia and trained in Karachi for two months to prepare for the Games.