Pakistan cycling two tyred to keep on track

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KARACHI: In 1954, just seven years after Pakistan’s inception, the country inaugurated its first ever velodrome — the Lahore Cycling Velodrome stood tall and proud among the barren fields of Ferozpur Road.

But the sands of time have taken their toll on the mighty structure and over the years it has gone from being a cycling haven to a well of peril; often injuring the cyclists with its patched up cemented track.

Its condition means that even if the country’s security situation improves, they cannot host any international competitions.

“I have been practising on this track for the past 10 years and in that time it hasn’t been maintained properly even once,” said senior cyclist Noor Alam.

A struggle for power

The 27-year-old Alam was part of the recently concluded National Championship camp organised by the Idrees Haider Khawaja-led Pakistan Cycling Federation (PCF).

“Two different federations are vying for cycling authority, so whenever a championship is being organised by one of them, they just patch up the track rather than fix the entire thing,” he revealed. “This has made it increasingly uneven over the years.”

Alam speaks from experience. “I was recently cycling at a speed of 65kmph on the edge of the track when I tripped over a bump and ended up falling down and getting severely injured. I was out of action for four months.”

A cycling coach, SSGC’s Najeebur Rehman, also feels the power struggle has worsened the track. “The track is in this condition because of the parallel federations, both of whom claim ownership of it,” he said. “Considering that neither are willing to fix it, this will get worse in the upcoming years.”

But both federations have their own backing, with the Khawaja-led PCF being recognised by the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA), while the other PCF — led by Kokab Nadeem Waraich and Azhar Ali — is recognised by the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB).

“Both federations hold their separate national championships and the cyclists in Pakistan are also divided between them,” said Rehman.

The divide in federations has split the cycling fraternity down the middle. “Cyclists who participate in Khawaja’s championship are not allowed to participate in Ali’s championship and vice versa,” revealed Rehman. “This is not just affecting cyclists but also the track, as the velodrome land is owned by the PSB but was constructed by the POA.”

Problems abound

When it was constructed in 1954, the velodrome was up to international standards, but over the years it has stood still while the world has rapidly progressed. “The world is using wooden tracks,” said Rehman. “They have gymnasiums and dressing rooms underneath those wooden tracks, while we continue to use this cemented one.”

Another problem with the velodrome is that it is 333m in size, which means three rounds make a kilometre. Tracks around the world are now using 250m or 500m tracks.

“This is why our cyclists fail in international competitions as they are not used to wooden tracks nor can they calculate the distances properly,” said the SSGC coach. “The federations take the cyclists there a couple of days before a competition so that they can get used to it but that doesn’t work,” he explained. “This is why our cyclists mostly take part in road events rather than track events.”

Contrasting claims

Nor is a lack of money a valid excuse. Khawaja claims an amount of Rs49 million was sanctioned by the government in November 2005 for the reconstruction of a velodrome at the Nishtar Sports Complex in Lahore but work on the project has not yet begun.

“The velodrome is incomplete and in very bad condition,” he said. “Work on it continues to be delayed but despite all this our achievements in the sport are remarkable.”

The PSB claims work has not begun due to a dispute with the Government of Punjab; a claim refuted by Khawaja.

Ali claims their federation is recognised by the Government of Pakistan and is therefore the one that should be allowed to take care of the velodrome. “Khawaja was the previous secretary and now he is in the opposition federation,” he said. “That is hurting the players as they had to buy expensive cycles which they are not able to use in international completions.”

As both parties continue to point fingers of blame at each other, it is the game and those who play it that suffer. In more ways than one, the road ahead for them is uncomfortably bumpy.

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