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The sorry plight of basketball

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 The News 

KARACHI: Go to Nishtar Park and you will see a group of around 10 players playing basketball, who say they love this game despite the lack of financial rewards associated with other sports.
Two basketball clubs operate at Nishtar Park, one of the oldest grounds in the city. The number of players, who practice there in the evening, has been decreasing for some years.
Those who have left have done it because they did not see opportunities in this game that could give them decent jobs.
This correspondent met Rahseed Butt, a former national player and the coach of the team that took part in the Asian Games in 1978. “We stood at number 5 in that Asian Games, highest achievement of the country to date, and I still remember how amazing this game was at that time,” he said.
The former player did not see good talent around these days, which, according to him, is the reason why Pakistan have not been qualifying for Asian Games for quite a long time.
“Back in ‘78 when we appeared in the Asian Games we had a Chinese coach with his two assistants who trained our team in a camp of eight months, and that made all the difference,” Rasheed recalled.
He said that since then there has been no foreign coach in the country for basketball team, as the authorities usually hire local coaches of different departments and that too before leaving for any international event.
“Basketball is a game of the poor. It is not on the priority list of people and authorities. No training camps are arranged now. The last camp we had for the national team was before appearing in South Asian Games in 2010 in Dhaka,” said the old coach.
A young player, Mohammad Azeem, is the one who is trying hard to make this game attractive for youth by organising basketball activities in Karachi.
He is the Secretary of Karachi Basketball Association (KBBA) with which 16 clubs of the city are affiliated. Some 20 private clubs operate in Karachi. He told ‘The News’ that a number of players practice at Nishtar Park despite poor law and order situation in the city. “Owing to law and order situation in the city, we can’t practice regularly though,” he added.
Azeem, however, says that youngsters are interested in this game, so his association has been giving them chances by arranging summer camps in June and July.
He said last year it was a bunch of 80 kids who participated in the camp.
Jameel Akhtar, former coach of KESC’s basketball team that got disbanded in December 2010, is the running mate of these players at Nishtar Park. “The indifference of the authorities is responsible for the bad state of the game in the country,” he said, adding that they were not even being provided with continuous playing opportunities.
About the quality of players, he said there is potential in Pakistan. “What does one need to be a quality basketball player? Good height, good jump, and strong physique, which our players do have,” said Jameel.
Mohammad Shabbar is an ardent player of this game and also a sports teacher at a local school. He has been playing basketball since his childhood. “I have been playing this game for a long time and it’s my passion. But I know that we have very limited options in it, so I am doing M Sc in health and physical sciences to get a better job,” he said ruefully.
Asked why he plays basketball if he does not see any bright prospects, he said he just loves to play this game. “My aim is to play for the country. And if I quit playing, it won’t be any good to this already dying game,” he added.
Mohammad Idrees, a former national player and the President of Christian Gymkhana, a local club, said that his club has been giving opportunities to the basketball players of this city since 1988. “Currently, we have around 12 players at the club. All of them are Christians and, of course, part-time players,” he said.
Idrees said one of the main reasons for the deterioration of the game in the recent times is that no club level championship has been held in the city for four to five years.
Javed Akhtar is the Secretary of Pakistan Sports Club, which was established 26 years ago and is one of the top four clubs of Karachi. “We have 14 part time players. The sport is declining in Karachi because they know they won’t get any paid jobs by playing this game, therefore, players are not interested in taking it as a profession,” he said.
Another stakeholder is Aamir Ghias, General Secretary of Karachi Cant Club (division of YMCA club for school children). “We have some 22 players, all school boys. They have a lot of passion but dearth of facilities makes them run away,” he said, adding that since colleges have abandoned sports quotas, players do not get admissions on the basis of their sports capabilities, therefore, they have lost their interest.
He said the overall situation is very bad but he is hopeful that the game would make its way someday.
Rashid Gustas is from the former North Deputy Commissioner Club (famous club of North Nazimabad), which has been there for over 10 years. “Now it’s North Club and we have 14 players, who practice on and off,” said Rashid.
When contacted, Treasurer of Pakistan Basketball Federation (PBF) Shiekh Muhammad Naeem said they receive only Rs500,000 per year in which they are supposed to organise three national championships, two junior championships, and one all Pakistan tournament. “This is not possible and we have to seek sponsorships from different sectors.”

It may be noted here that this scarcity of funds has made it very difficult for the federation to develop wooden courts in major cities of the country. In the absence of wooden courts most of the players have to practice on cement courts which affects the quality of their game.