Pakistan Cycling Federation secretary Azhar Ali Shah has given a blunt assessment of cycling’s future in his country while outlining the barriers to reinstating international road cycling events on the calendar.
Images: Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
In an interview with ‘The News’, PCF secretary Azhar Ali Shah decried the lack of personnel and financial capital needed to host an international cycling event saying it was only possible in the past by inviting “mediocre” riders from neighbouring countries and paying large sums of money for officials to oversee events.
“We have no money. Sports in Pakistan is just a joke,” Azhar Ali Shah told The News. “You can hold an event like some people did in the past by inviting mediocre riders from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka but that will not help our cyclists. For staging a standard race you need at least PKR25 million (USD240’000) and the way we are taking our sports it looks impossible.
India engaged around 70 technical officials for the South Asian Games cycling event but still they had to bring in a main UCI qualified conductor from Sri Lanka who must have charged between $10,000 and $15,000.”
The last UCI-sanctioned road cycling event held in Pakistan was the UCI2.2 Tour de Pakistan of 2011, won by local cyclist Sabir Ali. The 2012 edition was originally due to be held in March that year, but was subsequently postponed to October and ultimately cancelled altogether. Since then, the PCF-sanctioned Tour de Giliyat has been the only national-level race to run continuously.
Shah pointed out the problems extend far beyond events held in Pakistan, citing lack of funds as crippling to the future development of cycling and cyclists. The possibility of a wild-card entry to the World Road Cycling Championships in Doha later this year only adds to the budgetary strain.
“We recently sent our team to Japan for the Asian Championship. It cost us PKR2.7 million (USD25’000),” continued Shah. “The Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) gives us only PKR800,000 (USD7’600) for the purpose. There are also no sponsors. How can we conduct such a race?
We plan to field team in the World Championships in Dubai in October. For this event we want to send our riders abroad for three to four months training but we don’t know how it would be possible as we don’t have money.”
Visa problems also continue to be a thorn in the side of PCF officials, with national road cycling champion Sabir Khan one of 17 Pakistani athletes and officials denied accreditation to last month’s South Asian Games in India.
It is certainly not the first time an official from an Asian national cycling federation has spoken openly to the press about problems faced in developing the sport. Malaysian national cycling coach John Beasley is a particularly vocal critic of the Malaysian National Cycling Federation and the Cycling Federation of India and its various state associations is a frequent target of widespread complaint. For Shah though, the problems extends across all sporting codes.
“This is the story of not just cycling,” concluded Shah. “Other sports have the same problems. We cannot claim we will ever be able to make our presence felt in international circuit.”
I have been trying to spread the message that sport, not just cycling, is run in these countries in the way that country runs everything else. So for cycling if the country is known for corruption, the cycling bodies or officials will also be corrupt. That does not necessarily mean that they are creaming money, but it could mean in some cases that they are kidding the UCI into believing that there is nothing wrong with the admin of the sport in their country. Certainly the UCI mistakenly believes that Thailand is running the sport well here, when the opposite is true. The sport is run very badly in Thailand which hinders the development of the sport and off course, the riders. I sympathise here with the Pakistan Cycling offcial’s view. And it seems that Cycling IQ is aware of the problems, via John Beasley, in Malaysia – even though the Malaysians (thanks to John) have had some success internationally, he is faced with a huge task. My efforts in Thailand seem pathetic by comparison, but certainly I cannot deal with the madness, the appalling organisation, the lack of ethics and so on that we find in our sport in Thailand. This has been pointed out to the UCI but they cannot see it. It is a problems that affects South Asia and also some of the ex-Soviet countries which is why we have seen problems with Astana. What must be understood by the governing body is that the assurances that they are given about any aspect of the sport is quite often dishonest.