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.”