KARACHI - Agence France-Presse
Mohammad Asif was given a hero’s welcome in Pakistan after winning the world amateur snooker title. EPA Photo
Pakistan’s Mohammad Asif returned home to a hero’s welcome yesterday after cueing his way to the world amateur snooker title in a campaign which nearly ended before it began.
Pakistan has been desperately short of sporting success stories in recent years and though the amateur championship may not have the glamour and profile of the professional event, politicians, fans and media have lavished praise on the country’s only current world champion.
Asif held off England’s Gary Wilson 10-8 in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on Dec. 2 but he almost never made it to the tournament.
A shortage of funds meant the Pakistan Billiards and Snooker Federation (PBSF) had practically given up hope of sending players to the championship until a slew of personal donations allowed Asif to board the plane.
The 30-year-old repaid the donors’ generosity with a fairytale win, Pakistan’s first in the tournament since 1994.
“I am blessed,” Asif said amid loud cheers from hundreds of fans who gathered at Karachi airport in the early hours to welcome the country’s new hero.
“It’s destiny, I could not have been there at all and here I am with the world trophy, it hasn’t sunk in yet. I hope my success will inspire youngsters and snooker gets the same attention as cricket and hockey.”
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf congratulated Asif, and cameras followed him from the moment he stepped off the plane. Almost all the papers ran editorials hailing the achievement and urging the government to do more to support cue sports. In cricket’s shadow
Before the tournament Asif declared it would be his last as it was becoming difficult to juggle playing to support his family.
“I can’t continue like this, because every time I have to ask for money from my family and it’s time I either play on my own or quit,” he said.
As Pakistan’s top player, Asif gets a monthly stipend from the PBSF of 8,000 rupees ($82).
Cricket is by far the biggest sport in Pakistan, followed by millions, with big-money sponsorship deals and top players appearing in commercials for everything from banking to shampoo.
Other sports in which Pakistan once excelled have slumped due to consistent government apathy and underinvestment in facilities, while snooker survives thanks to the efforts of dedicated amateur players and officials.
PBSF chairman Asghar Valika said he hoped the win would raise the sport’s profile in Pakistan.
“Asif’s triumph is a good news for Pakistan snooker and I am hopeful that the sport will again be boosted and revived in the country,” he said.