Tough life for women cyclists in Pakistan

New Delhi, March 10: Pakistani cycling officials say the sport is one of the most neglected ones in the country, especially in the case of women.

The Pakistani contingent is finally here for the Asian Cycling Championships after getting their visas at the 11th hour. Part of the six-member unit is 17-year-old Anam Mehmood, a deaf and mute girl from Lahore.

The ‘rising star’, among the handful women cyclists in Pakistan, is expectedly excited about participating in her first international competition. Though she can’t express herself completely, her mother Ruksana said she has not seen Anam happier since the time she got to know about the visa clearance.

“The way she is, I have to be with her all the time. She panics if I am not around. Anam started cycling four years ago and, Insha’Allah, she has been doing really well. Expectedly, it has not been an easy ride. Practising on the streets of Lahore can be quite challenging,” Ruksana told IANS Sunday, adding that she was sad about Anam missing her main event, 500 metres time trial, due to the delayed arrival.

Anam studies at the Hamza Academy in Lahore and has won gold in her inter-school meet.

The outdoor cemented velodrome at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium is the lone such facility in Pakistan and the team was understandably overwhelmed after seeing the world class indoor wooden velodrome at the Indira Gandhi Stadium here.

Fauzia Javeid, lady vice-president of the Pakistan Cycling Federation (PCF), is here too and it doesn’t take long for her to open up about the state of affairs back home.

“The biggest challenge for the girls is to get to the Gaddafi Stadium on their bikes. They are forced to dress like men fearing being bullied by the opposite gender. The sport remains very much for the elite and that is why it is heartening to see someone like Anam doing so well,” Fauzia said, referring to the rider’s humble background.

Fauzia added that sports other than cricket and hockey find it hard to survive. Given the current economic situation in Pakistan, funding for sport has taken a backseat.

“For this financial year, we got around Rs.7 lakh (approx. Rs.3.8 lakh INR). Next year we have been promised around Rs.35 lakh. This obviously is not enough to run a federation, so we rely a lot on sponsorship,” said PCF secretary Syed Azhar Ali Shah.

Given the state of affairs, it is no wonder Anam is here with a sub-standard bike costing Rs.30,000 INR.

IANS