The four-man Pakistan badminton team, which has a standard size of eight, has made it to Birmingham against all odds.
The players, including Olympian Mahur Shahzad, should not have even been here.
The Pakistan Sports Board dropped badminton from its Commonwealth Games contingent earlier this month due to a paucity of funds, crushing their hopes before the country’s Olympic body found a sponsor at the last minute.
With government support also non-existent and private players only backing cricket, Shahzad says it is tough to be a sportsperson in her country even though there has been an increase in awareness around the racket sport over the last couple of years. The 26-year-old Shahzad from Karachi, who became the first Pakistan badminton player to feature in the Olympics last year, is primarily a singles specialist but she had to play doubles too in a one-sided affair against a formidable India on Friday due to the small team size.
The same was the case with his female double partner Ghazala Siddiqui, who also had to pair in the mixed doubles event. The men’s team members are Murad Ali and Irfan Saeed Bhatti. “Other teams have eight players. Here the four of us have to play all the games.
I am a singles player but I had to play doubles and mixed doubles as well. It becomes difficult to focus on one,” Shahzad told PTI after the 0-5 loss to India.
Shehzad and his couple partner Siddiqui both have government jobs, but that salary is not enough to meet their needs. Badminton is a passion for Shahzad, who hails from a business family, while Siddiqui doubles up as a sports teacher apart from a government job to support his family, which includes five siblings.
Shehzad’s long-term goal is to make it to the 2024 Paris Olympics, but despite her long stay, she feels stuck with regards to her career.
He said, ‘Training in a country like Pakistan is very difficult. You have to defend yourself, there are no good coaches, you have to do fitness, gym yourself. There is no proper training center back home.
“No player comes to Pakistan and we don’t play many international tournaments. So the level is stuck. I feel that my game is stuck and I need to train abroad to do better. Siddiqui, on the other hand, started playing only five years back and it is a real honor for him to just be part of the national team.
The 28-year-old, who earns around 13,000 Indian rupees from her government job, cannot devote all her energy to the game due to her dual duties.
“Cricket is the only sport that gets support. I have to do two jobs as one is not enough to run the family. I am the eldest among five siblings so there is a responsibility as well,” Lahore-based Siddique said with a wry smile.
On Friday, the more experienced Shahzad got to face Indian superstar P V Sindhu, having already played against Saina Nehwal in the past. Her favourite player however is Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu-Ying.
“Sindhu came to me after the game to shake hands which was a nice gesture. Sindhu seems a lot more deceitful than Saina. Saina was more aggressive when I played against her,” Shehzad said.
Siddiqui is yet to speak to Indian players, but he has an Indian friend from his university days in 2017.
“During the 2017 World University Games, I became friends with an Indian. We spent a lot of time together and when I fell ill, he took care of it too. I will never forget that.”