After sixteen years, motocross racing makes an expensive comeback in Pakistan

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A motocross rider tackles bumps during the final lap of the pro class race in Kala Shah Kaku, April 28, 2019. (Photo Credit: The Videographers)
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Motocross riders at the dirt track in Kala Shah Kaku gear up for the final race, April 28, 2019. (Photo Credit: The Videographers)
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A motocross rider jumps over a 30 foot table-top turn at high speed during Pakistan’s first professional motoross race, April 28th, 2019. (Photo Credit: The Videographers)
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Riders for the “Enduro” biking category gather at the starting line, April 28, 2019. (Photo Credit: The Videographers)
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Moin Khan, a popular biking icon in Pakistan, after winning the pro class category, April 28, 2019. (Photo Credit: The Videographers)
Updated 30 April 2019

After sixteen years, motocross racing makes an expensive comeback in Pakistan

  • 10,000 people gathered for a dirt biking competition on Sunday at a newly minted professional track on the outskirts of Lahore
  • Motocross thrived in Pakistan in the late 80’s but fizzled out when tobacco and automobile sponsors lost interest

KALA SHAH KAKU: Pakistan held its first professional motocross race in sixteen years on Sunday where racers performed a variety of dramatic table-top jumps, whoops and sweeper turns at break-neck speeds, and close to ten thousand people gathered to watch in a sign of the sport’s growing popularity in the South Asian nation.
Motocross, short for motorcycling cross-country and popularly called dirt biking, is a type of off-road motorcycle race run on bumpy tracks that uses natural terrain features or man-made jumps and obstacles.
The sport first came to Pakistan in the late 80’s when it thrived on automobile and tobacco sponsorships. But once the sponsors lost interest, the sport died, said Ahsan Iqbal, a sales executive and former racer who said he had traveled to the newly minted 1.6 km professional track in Kala Shah Kaku, 20 kilometers west of Lahore, to support young bikers and help revive the sport.
The track and Sunday’s race are the brainchild of adventure motorcyclist Moin Khan, the founder of Pakistan Motocross and the day’s winner in the open, professional racing class. The bulk of Sunday’s race, held in a housing colony, was funded by real estate tycoon Shoaib Afzal Malik’s company SA Gardens.
“For the next few years, my aim is to help riders get sponsorships so they can maintain their bikes, so they can afford their passion and just race,” Khan told Arab News after his victory lap. “The only way to make this sport grow is to make it big enough for the government to take notice.”
Throwing a victory sign in the air at gushing fans, Moin added: “This is our first lap for Pakistan!”
Motocross evolved from off-road motorcycle trials in the United Kingdom in the 1950’s and is now a $5 billon industry worldwide. Much cheaper than the closest alternatives of car and grand prix racing, it was once considered the working man’s motor sport. In developing countries like Pakistan, however, it is proving to be an expensive hobby.
In Pakistan, just like in Afghanistan and Iran, local manufacturers do not produce off-road motorcycles designed for tackling non-paved surfaces at high speed. Taxes on the import of bikes, their spare parts and safety gear thus jack prices up to double, and sometimes triple, the base cost, with waiting periods of up to a year.
“It’s a rich man’s sport,” said Adeel Mughal, a motorcycle showroom owner from Rawalpindi who was competing in Sunday’s race. “If you want to do this professionally, you can’t just dress up your regular motorcycle and take it to the dirt.”
On average, getting a motocross bike to Pakistan legally can cost riders upwards of $20,000, several bikers at Sunday’s event said. Many are thus opting to smuggle vehicles into the country. Serious enthusiasts say they have had to borrow motorcycles from friends, take out huge bank loans and even invest in informal saving funds like ‘kitty parties’ to raise enough money.
“I grew up with a group of boys living the biker life, racing our ordinary motorcycles all over Murree Road,” Mughal said, referring to a main boulevard that runs through Islamabad and Rawalpindi. “We didn’t know anything about safety then. I lost seven friends to the road. We were young and relentless.”
Another rider, Ibrahim Shah, a rising star on the motocross scene who goes by his stage name Abraham Lincoln, told Arab News: “All our lives, our families told us motorcycle racing was too dangerous, but today they’ve come out to support us because they know we’re doing it safely.”
Across the border in Afghanistan, the motocross industry’s ascent has been swift, supported by the government, the national olympic committee and generous private sector funding, said Mujeebullah Rahmani, Secretary General of the Afghanistan Motorcycle Federation. He said Afghan riders had arrived in Pakistan to compete in a race earlier this year but were unable to get approval from Pakistan’s government to bring their motorcycles along.
“We (Afghans) were refugees in Pakistan when we learnt how to play cricket,” Rahmani said, referring to the game adopted by Afghans in the refugee camps of cricket-loving Pakistan, where more than 3 million fled a Soviet invasion and civil war in the 1980s and 1990s. “Now we hope motorcycles will unite us.”
According to Shambhu Nath, a research manager at the Dublin-based Fact.MR market research firm, annual participation in motocross sports in Asia is set to increase at an average rate of 15 percent per year due to rising disposable income and per capita expenditure of consumers in the region. A maturing tourism industry is also proving to be a fillip.
But Shah like other enthusiasts and professional racers said without government support and subsidies, the sport had little chance of thriving in Pakistan.
“Not a single local manufacturer is making the bikes we need. My safety gear alone has cost me $1,500,” he said. “Pakistan makes all this motocross gear for export but the riders have to buy the same thing at high prices from other countries.”
“The sport is here, the passion is here. Now the government just needs to help us grow,” Shah said. Then he clipped his helmet and whizzed down the dusty track.


Tyson Fury’s promoter says Saudi Arabia could host ‘Battle of the Brits’ Anthony Joshua heavyweight clash

Updated 23 February 2020

Tyson Fury’s promoter says Saudi Arabia could host ‘Battle of the Brits’ Anthony Joshua heavyweight clash

  • Frank Warren says the fighters will go where the money is
  • Anthony Joshua's promoter says 'huge site offer in place' for fight with Fury in Saudi Arabia

LONDON: World heavyweight champions Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua could fight in Saudi Arabia, Fury’s promoter said Sunday, after his boxer destroyed Deontay Wilder in Las Vegas.

Speculation is rife over who Fury will face next after the “Gypsy King” twice knocked down Wilder to seal an emphatic victory. Most pundits are hoping for a “Battle of the Brits” with Tyson and Joshua currently holding all four heavyweight belts between them.

Joshua fought Andy Ruiz Jr in Diriyah near Riyadh in December and his team said previously there is an offer to fight the winner of the Fury, Wilder fight in the Kingdom.

 

 

Fury was also inside a ring in Saudi Arabia in October when he took part in WWE’s Crown Jewel event in Riyadh. 

Frank Warren, Fury’s promoter, refused to rule out Saudi Arabia as a venue for the “Battle of the Brits.”

“In a dreamscape it should be in London but they’re professional athletes,” Warren said. “These guys have short careers, they go where the money is.

Anthony Joshua beat Andy Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia in December. (AFP/File photo)

“It’s the boxers who get in the ring and they’ll make the choices.”

Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn said last month that they have a “huge site offer in place” for the fight to take place in Saudi Arabia. 

Describing it as a “big option,” Hearn said: “We have a partnership out there in Saudi Arabia.

“They put the money up for the Andy Ruiz fight. Everything they promised, they delivered.

“They want this fight bad and when they've got that kind of attitude and mentality, it's going to be difficult to beat.”

Several hurdles remain in place for Fury to face Joshua.

Wilder, who held his title for five years, has 30 days to invoke a rematch clause against Fury. 

Joshua is scheduled to fight Kubrat Pulev at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London in June, but Hearn has suggested that match could be canceled to make way for a clash with Fury.

Another obstacle would be how to split the prize money. Warren suggested a 50-50 split would be generous to Joshua after the scale of Fury’s win in Las Vegas.

“In my time I’ve been involved with some big fights and some big fighters,” Warren said. “This is without doubt the best performance by a British fighter - not abroad, but ever.”

Joshua’s fight against Ruiz was the biggest boxing event held in Saudi Arabia and part of a drive to make the Kingdom a venue for the world’s biggest sporting events.

The fight took place on a rainy night at the purpose built 15,000 seat Diriyah Arena.

Joshua beat Ruiz with a unanimous points decision from the judges, reclaiming his world heavyweight belts.