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Indo-Pak athletes make peace at Asian Games

August 25, 2018 15:41 IST

Rahi Sarnobat

IMAGE: Gold medalist shooter Rahi Sarnobat arrives for the presentation ceremony of women’s 25m pistol. Photograph: Vijay Verma/PTI

The diplomatic hostilities make India-Pakistan peace seem like a pipe dream but it does turn into a reality at sporting events like the ongoing Asian Games where athletes from the two countries mingle freely and even cheer for each other.

The Pakistani tennis contingent was there to back Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan during the men's doubles semifinals at the Jakabaring Tennis Center. The top-seeded Indian pair went on to win the gold medal on Friday.

 

Pakistani players were seen making a beeline for a picture with Bopanna, who reached a Grand Slam final with Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi back in 2010.

The Bopanna-Qureshi pair used to called the 'Peace Express' for never missing a chance to stress on the need for peace between the two nations.

"I have played some of the best tennis of my life in India, made great friends there, especially Delhi. I remain in constant touch with them. Whenever I played in Delhi, it was like home away from home," Pakistan tennis veteran Aqil Khan, who won a host of ITF Futures titles in India between 2000 and 2010, said. 

"I have also been to Hyderabad, loved the food there. It is exactly what I eat in Karachi. Delhi is the place I miss the most. After matches at DLTA, we used to go out to eat in places like Green Park and South Ex."

"It was as if I was playing in my own city," said the 38-year-old, whose last of the many memorable visits to India came during the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Khan is in the twilight of his long career but like him, the Pakistani youngsters, including Muhammad Abid and Muzammil Murtaza, would love to play in India "if they get the visa".

The same warmth between the athletes of two countries was visible at the shooting range, where India has had a productive campaign so far.

Pistol shooter Ghulam Mustafa Bashir, who qualified for the Rio Olympics, says it is only natural that they get along well with their Indian counterparts.

"There is instant connection with the Indians. We speak the same language so there is not even a language barrier which we might face with shooter of other countries. We are always friendly with each other," the 31-year-old Bashir said.

He often discusses his game with India pistol coach Jaspal Rana, a four-time gold medallist at the Asian Games.

"We talk about shooting and we talk about other things also," added Bashir, who is a marine in Pakistan Navy.

But there are times, when one has to be careful, especially in the shooting fraternity.

"Most of the shooters in Pakistan come from the defence forces. We get along well but you have to maintain a distance. Otherwise, there are no issues. I remember going to Karachi once. We were treated very nicely," said Rana

Their competition over at Asiad, Indian athletes yet to get daily allowance

Indian athletes are yet to get their daily allowance of $ 50 per day even though their competition at the Asian Games draws to an end at this venue, an official of the contingent has conceded.

Palembang is co-hosting the Games with Jakarta and sports like tennis and shooting are being competed.

The Indian participation in tennis is already over and shooting will end on Sunday. Athletes of these major sports, which have given India three gold medals so far, are yet to get their due. Most of the tennis players and shooters have already departed for their next assignment.

Shooters are headed for the World Championships in Changwon while some tennis players including doubles gold medallists Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan will be competing at the US Open in New York.
All athletes have been given a forex card but the money is not loaded in it yet.

B S Kushwaha, deputy chef de mission from the Indian Olympic Association, said that forex cards will be activated soon.

"The cards are to be activated from Delhi, not here. I am in constant touch with the IOA officials in Delhi and they said it will be done soon. It could be done by today evening," Kushwaha said.

The allowance is sanctioned by the Sports Ministry but it is the IOA which is in charge of ensuring the athletes get the DA.

While the delay doesn't impact the senior players much, the junior athletes are left in the lurch.

"Everything is taken care of in the Games Village but there are times you need the money. My point is that if you have to give the money anyway, why not do it at the start of the tournament? Most of the tennis players are gone, so what is the point if they load the card now,” an Indian athlete saidon condition of anonymity.

A team official from the shooting contingent said there was no delay during the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast but they are awaiting the allowance this time.

"We are told we would be getting it by tonight. But obviously, it is better if we get it at the start of the event or even in the middle of the competition. Right now, we are nearing the end," said the official.

Kushwaha pointed out that sometimes incorrect information of the athlete might cause delay.

"Sometimes, the passport numbers they send could be wrong, or some other error in filling up the form that can cause the delay. Anyway, the officials in Delhi are on it and it should be done soon," he said.

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