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Pakistani athletes feeling at ‘home’

12th South Asian Games in Guwahati

Guwahati : Tired after their arduous 30-hour-long travel from Lahore, Pakistani athletes Sobia Ghafoor and Bismah Idrees were seen relaxing at the lounge of Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport here this morning.

The women’s volleyball duo, who travelled along with another teammate, found themselves at ‘home’ as they kept waiting for hours for their 12 other teammates who’re slated to arrive in batches from Kolkata for the 12th South Asian Games beginning here and Shillong tomorrow.

“We’re coming here for the first time here and already we’re overwhelmed by the warmth and hospitality. Win or not, I’m sure we’ll go back with a lot of memories — of friendship and peace,” the duo clad in green baize told PTI.

Elaborating their ‘touchdown’ experience in a country where political relations are always entangled, Sobia said: “We had issues with tickets and people in Kolkata really helped us.”

It is history in the making for the Pakistani women’s volleyball team who will be returning to the SA Games after two decades — for the first time after their participation in Madras, 1995 where they had finished with a bronze medal.

The women’s volleyball team were camping in Lahore and they travelled via Doha to Kolkata taking them more than 24 hours to reach the northeastern hub of Guwahati.

“It’s a historic tour for the women’s team. We’re told that we’re participating in an International tournament after a long long time. We will try and do our best. God willing, we’ll reach the final.”

“We just hope that we don’t get tired before our match against Maldives. We’re very tired having started at 4am yesterday.”

Fascinated by the Indian sarees and ‘bindi’, Sobia hopes to do some shopping, while her teammate Bisma wants to experience the food and watch few Hindi films.

“We all love Indian movies and the songs. I’m sure it will be fun here and we hope to do some shopping as well,” the duo added.

Also a cricketer at domestic level, Bisma further said “India-Pakistan should resume their cricketing ties. I’m sure the cricketers want to play and we fans are desperate to see them in action. At least they can take some of our players in IPL.”

A 456-strong Pakistani contingent is participating in the February 5-16 Games in Guwahati and Shillong that has a motto of ‘Play For Peace Progress and Prosperity’.

Just as the the women’s volleyball trio sat in a corner waiting for their teammates, a big men’s and women’s swimming contingent arrived as they were welcomed by traditional Assamese drum beats inside the airport all decked up for the SA Games.

Director of sport board Punjab, Hafeez Bhatti, who’s here as a technical official in swimming, said there has been no anxiety or apprehension among any of their athletes despite the recent call-off of India Pakistan series.

“It’s really unfortunate that India don’t want to play cricket with Pakistan. But as for us, we’ve been preparing for this Games for more than a year in advance. We’re here to compete with full sportsman spirit,” he said.

“I don’t see any difference between the two countries, we speak the same language here food is also similar. Hope the relations improve and we see the resumption of cricketing ties.”

The swimming contingent was accompanied by the vice-president of Pakistan Women’s Swimming Association Nargis Rahimtoola, a Burmese settled in Pakistan since birth.

“Pakistan is my home. I’ve seen the country since birth and I see the country progress. Media really paint a bad picture of the tensions. It’s all political, why single out Pakistan? — violence har ek sehar mein hota hai.”

“Let’s not get into all this. We’re here to promote sport which after all is unity. All South Asian countries are here, together fighting for sportsmanship glory and not bombs!,” she summed up.

Pakistan (19 gold, 25 silver and 36 bronze medals) had edged out hosts Bangladesh (18-23-56) on gold medal count to finish second behind toppers India who had clinched 90 gold, 55 silver and 30 bronze in the 11th South Asian Games in Dhaka in 2010.

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