Sports

Palwasha keen to create history by cementing Olympics berth

Written by Omair Alavi

Synopsis

The top-ranked player wants to become the first shuttler from Pakistan to ‘qualify’ for the Olympics

In Pakistan, with the ever-rising inflation, playing top-level sports is becoming a luxury for most with every passing day. Athletes are finding it hard to train and participate at the highest level.

Barring cricket where the is constant investment from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) with the help of private companies who put in tons of money for the betterment at a different level, athletes from no other sport can claim that they are looked after well by the sporting bodies as they should’ve been to compete with the best in the world.

It is because of this reason Pakistan has not managed to win a single gold medal in Olympics for more than two decades.

Badminton is one such unfortunately sport where authorities are just least interested to put in any effort or money for athletes to have the same kind of facilities which would enable them to bring some glory back home.

Therefore, it is no surprise that the country itself is not a household name in the world of badminton and the locals are not even aware of the national champions.

Palwasha Bashir is one talented badminton player in Pakistan who is also the current second-ranked singles player and mixed doubles champion in the country. However, not many outside the sporting industry are aware of her success on the court.

Eyes on Olympics berth

Bol News had a chat with the multiple-time national champion who believes in training hard and staying fit, and when she was asked about her chances to play in the Paris Olympics 2024, she said that she wants to become the first shuttler from the country who directly qualifies for a mega-event instead of waiting to be awarded a ‘Wild Card’.

“In March 2022, I sustained an injury during the final of the national championship, that too when I was about to win a set against my opponent Mahoor Shehzad,” she said. “Thankfully, that break allowed me to reflect on the way I was approaching things. I read somewhere that ‘God helps those who help themselves’, and that’s where I realized that it’s better to qualify for the Olympics instead of waiting for a Wild Card, that might or might not be awarded to me.’

Palwasha, who has won medals for Pakistan in tournaments held in Kenya and Uganda, is also one of the few players to have won the Double Crown at the Pakistan International series.

She won both the singles and doubles final of the event in 2016 and retained her title the next year as the women’s doubles champion.

Trying different training methods

She believes that since the Olympics are more than two years away, she has enough time to play international tournaments and improve her ranking so that she can go to the big stage with her head held high.

“I have been trying very hard to improve my game and give my 100 per cent to what might be my final shot at the Olympics,” she said. “In order to get used to the conditions in Paris, I am trying to train myself in Lahore instead of my home city Karachi where I feel comfortable and vulnerable.”

Palwasha further went on to reveal that she has been playing against boys as well to evaluate her performances against the best in the business.

“I also try to play against both boys and girls instead of restricting myself to just the girls so that I have an idea of how to play against a better opponent,” she said. “Who knows that this training might prove to be the difference, and even before the Olympics, I manage to better Pakistan’s and my own record at the international level.”

Ready to struggle

Palwasha’s confidence in her ability seems to be the driving force behind her rise. She is the only Pakistani shuttler to bag a bronze medal in the women’s singles event in the South Asian Games and wants to do the same at the other events.

Her success is even more impressive considering that she does not belong to a sporting family. In fact, she is the only person from her immediate family to enter the sporting arena and ended up making a name for herself.

Talking about how she managed to do that, Palwasha stated that the secret behind such success is only hard work and the willingness to struggle.

“During the ‘me time’ I had during my recovery [from injury], I read biographies of many sportspersons and the one thing that was common in their story was their struggle,” said Palwasha. “There was no success without struggle and I connected with them instantly.”

The Karachi born, while giving a reference to a Bollywood movie 83 which was about India’s maiden 50-over World Cup triumph, was of the opinion that as an athlete living in a country like Pakistan where the focus is just on one sport, the struggle for players participating in other events is even greater.

“As a player from Pakistan, we have to do just more than playing the game because we are from a country where cricket is the only sport followed,” she said. “I was able to connect to that part [of players washing their clothes] of the film [83] because even today, we are made to buy shuttlecocks for our training from our own pockets.”

The cost

Stating the cost that badminton players have to bear just to practice, Palwasha was of the opinion that things might’ve been different if there was more unity amongst the players, something which is lacking.

“Had they [shuttlecocks] been cheap it wouldn’t have mattered,” she said. “A box costs Rs. 2400 in which there are hardly 12 shuttlecocks that might or might not survive a day. If the players in Pakistan were united, they could have asked those at the helm for either a discounted rate or free shuttlecocks but unity isn’t something we excel at. Just imagine domestic cricketers purchasing cricket balls for their own practice sessions and you will understand what I want to say.”

Tournaments in Africa

Palwasha is due to play in a couple of international tournaments in Africa and she is confident that a good performance there would result in an improvement in her rankings.

“I am looking forward to playing [in Africa],” she said. “I am optimistic about excelling in those two tournaments where I will get to play against the best in the world. I might be the mixed doubles National champion at the moment, but I would try to perform in singles as well and improve my international ranking.”

Pleading with authorities

Furthermore, Palwasha appealed to the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) to realize that female athletes can also bring laurels to the country if they are sent to the mega event.

“I hope more women are part of the next Olympic contingent because female athletes are as good as male athletes,” she said. “If they are given a chance, they can definitely surprise the opponents with her performance.”

Way forward

Talking about the way forward to bring a sport like a badminton into the mainstream, Palwasha was of the opinion that there should be a tournament similar to the one like the Pakistan Super League otherwise the players will stop pursuing a career in the sport.

“We don’t have professionalism in any sport,” she maintained. “Until or unless we have a Pakistan Badminton League on the lines of Pakistan Super League, we might push shuttlers away.”

Omair Alavi – BOL News

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Omair Alavi