ISLAMABAD, Jan 19: A group of eight Pakistani skiers has begun a nine-week advanced training-cum-competition tour of Europe with the ultimate aim of qualifying for the next year’s Winter Olympics.
Ski Federation of Pakistan (SFP), led by its President Air Marshal Shahid Lateef, has sponsored this European trip by the country’s selected skiers nearly half of whom are said to have bright chances for making it to the Winter Olympics 2010 to be held in February next year at Vancouver (Canada).
In fact, SFP has been providing financial, logistical and coaching support for the last almost one year to this group of eight skiers, said Vice Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Shahid Lateef who is also the President of SFP.
This support will culminate in qualification for the multi-sports Winter Olympics after their stay in Europe during which an SFP-hired Austrian coach will train them.
Almost all of these eight skiers belong to Northern Areas which is the home to the country’s top ski resort at Nalter, near Gilgit.
The eight skiers will first train at advance ski training school in Austria and then will participate in 15 competitive races in Austria and adjoining countries.
“Participation in these races will yield FIS (Federation de International Skiing) points to enable the skiers qualify for the Winter Olympics”, Air Marshal Shahid said.
A skier automatically qualifies for the Winter Olympics if he has average of 120 FIS points.
At least four Pakistani skiers, with Muhammad Abbas and Sawar Khan most notable among them, are likely to obtain the 120-odd FIS points from the group of eight now in Europe.
Group Capt. ® Zahid Farooq is accompanying the squad as coach of the eight skiers who are Muhammad Abbas, Sher Afzal, Master Karim, Sawar Khan, Muhammad Iqbal, Zia Jan, Abdul Baqi and Dil Nawaz.
Master Karim is too young to aim for the Olympics “but we have taken him along as he is highly talented and may be the rising skiing star of Pakistan”, said the Secretary of SFP, Air Commodore Musarrat Ali.
Should Pakistani skiers qualify for Vancouver, they will become the first Winter Olympians not only of Pakistan but also of the entire region, Air Marshal Shahid said.
“Muhammad Abbas and one or two of our other skiers have been groomed and trained to a stage where they are capable of collecting those FIS (International Skiing Federation) qualification points”, Air Marshal Shahid Lateef said.
He said SFP had been making strenuous efforts for the past many years to promote this winter sport in the country, particularly in the Northern Areas, through its ski resorts of Nelter, near Gilgit, and Kalabagh, near Abbottabad.
“The budding junior skiers shortlisted by SFP are further trained at PAF Ski School at Nalter”, Air Marshal Shahid Lateef said. “This is an expensive sport but we are providing them all possible facilities such as Ski Simulators etc”.
“We also have devised plans to upgrade Nelter into an international standard skiing facility and will repair the Malam Jabba resort as well, which has the third skiing slope of the country, when the situation there improves”, he said.
Shahid said the federation was providing enthusiasts from all over the country with competitive skiing facilities at Nalter and Kalabagh. “SFP now has 19 affiliated units with NADRA being the latest member”.
He said the funds provided by International Ski Federation (FIS) for participation of officials in SFP meetings were also being set aside for participation of players in foreign competitions.
He cited the example of invitation of FIS for him to attend FIS congress in South Africa. “I preferred to save the funds meant for my participation in FIS congress for sending the players abroad for competitive training”.
He said PAF had patronized squash when it was a relatively new sport in Pakistan. Similarly, PAF had also been supporting such sports as golf, football, archery tennis, blind cricket etc.
“We have supported these games so that Pakistani players could earn international recognition and thus raise a soft image for the country”, Shahid said, adding that largest-ever number of enthusiasts, including women and children, would compete in the series of national level skiing competitions at Nalter next month.
These competitions include Shah Khan Cup, Chairman JCSC Cup, Karakoram Cup and national Championship. Top 60 players to be identified in these events would be selected for grooming.
Air Commodore Musarrat Ali said on this occasion that though geographically Pakistan was not ideally suited for winter sports, Pakistani players could do well in skiing given proper training and encouragement.
“Pakistan has a short skiing season while this sport is also expensive but the federation and the PAF are working hard to overcome these obstacles”, Musarrat said. (APP)