Activist-athlete boosts image of Balochistan

Defying tall odds, Shahida Abbasi becomes second woman athlete to win a gold medal for Pakistan. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2019

Activist-athlete boosts image of Balochistan

  • There is more to our Hazara town than just bomb blasts, Shahida Abbasi says

KARACHI: As Pakistan’s second woman athlete to win a gold medal in karate at the South Asian Games in Nepal, Shahida Abbasi knows how to pack a punch.

That, however, is half the battle won she says.

True glory, she adds, lies in the fact that her town in Balochistan — which until recently was in the news for bomb blasts and target killings — has now become a source of pride for the country.

“When I started karate a few years ago, there would be regular blasts in the Hazara town of Quetta. Now, the town which was in the news for blasts and target killings is being celebrated for its achievements in sports,” Abbasi, 24, told Arab News during a phone interview from Katmandu, the venue for the prestigious games which began on Sunday and end on Dec. 10.

Pakistan won two gold, three silver and four bronze medals, with Abbasi bringing home the trophy in the women’s single karate category. 

“I am happy that I’m a source of pride for my country, my city, my town and my parents,” she said.

First launched in 1984, the South Asian Games, formerly known as the South Asian Federation Games, is a biennial multi-sporting event which sees participation from seven countries — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Nepal is leading in the games with 15 gold medals, followed by Sri Lanka and India with three gold medals each. Bangladesh came a close third with two gold medals, while Bhutan and Maldives have yet to win a gold. “I am very happy that I was the first from Pakistan to play and gave my country a good start with a gold medal,” Abbasi said, adding that the bouquets she has earned have not been without their share of brickbats.

“When I would go to the academy for learning karate, the boys in my neighborhood would taunt me. I wouldn’t respond but continued my journey with all positivity. Today, I gave them the answer with my performance,” she said.

Abbasi started learning karate in 2004, going on to win national and international medals for her Hazara Club in Quetta and the country.

She credits her father for her win. “'Martial arts is not for girls,’ our neighbors would say. But my father, my main supporter, continued to push me and today I made him proud.”

The second of four sisters, Abbasi said that she called her father in Quetta to tell him that she had won. “But he already knew it! He was very happy and said he’s proud of me,” she said.

Another driving factor for Abbasi to go for gold was to change people’s perception of Balochistan. She said it is considered a backward province but has immense talent and potential. “Give the people of Balochistan a chance, be it in education, sports or any other field, they will prove themselves.”

Muhammad Shah, Abbasi’s coach, praised her “outstanding performance.” 

“She has played better than our expectations,” Shah told Arab News, adding that with support from the government, the athletes can do even better.

“If the government arranges for us around two months training camp, the medals can be doubled. All of my athletes were excellent. However, Shahida Abbasi was brilliant,” Shah said.

Asked if she had a message for other girls her age, Abbasi said: “Have self-respect and self-confidence. With these two things you can outshine in any field.”


China scrambles to contain ‘strengthening’ virus

Updated 26 January 2020

China scrambles to contain ‘strengthening’ virus

  • Coronavirus’ transmission ability getting stronger
  • China confirms 1,975 people infected, 56 dead

BEIJING/SHANGHAI: The ability of the new coronavirus to spread is strengthening and infections could continue to rise, China’s National Health Commission said on Sunday, with more than 2,000 people in China infected and 56 killed by the disease.
Health authorities around the world are racing to prevent a pandemic after a handful of cases of infection were reported outside China, including in Thailand, Australia, the United States and France.
The mayor of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, said he expected another 1,000 new patients in the city, which was stepping up construction of special hospitals.
The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because much about it is still unknown, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.
China’s National Health Commission Minister Ma Xiaowei said the incubation period for the virus can range from one to 14 days, during which infection can occur, which was not the case with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
SARS was a coronavirus that originated in China and killed nearly 800 people globally in 2002 and 2003.
“According to recent clinical information, the virus’ ability to spread seems to be getting somewhat stronger,” Ma told reporters.
The Lunar New Year holiday, traditionally celebrated by hundreds of millions of Chinese traveling around the country and abroad to see family, began on Friday but has been severely disrupted by the outbreak.
Ma said China would intensify its containment efforts, which have so far included transportation and travel curbs and the cancelation of big events.
The country may extend the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing a meeting hosted by Chinese premier Li Keqiang.
The virus, believed to have originated late last year in a seafood market in Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife, has spread to cities including Beijing and Shanghai. Hong Kong has six confirmed cases.
The World Health Organization this week stopped short of calling the outbreak a global health emergency, but some health experts question whether China can contain the epidemic.
Chinese President Xi Jinping described the situation as “grave” on Saturday.
China confirmed 2,051 cases of infection as of 7 p.m. (1100 GMT) on Jan. 26, while the death toll from the virus remained at 56, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Health officials in Orange County, California, reported that a third case had been registered in the United States in a traveler from Wuhan, who was in isolation and in good condition.
On Saturday, Canada declared a first “presumptive” confirmed case in a resident who had returned from Wuhan. Australia confirmed its first four cases.
No fatalities have been reported outside China.

On Sunday, China temporarily banned nationwide the sale of wildlife in markets, restaurants, and e-commerce platforms. Wild and often poached animals packed together in Chinese markets are blamed as incubators for viruses to evolve and jump the species barrier to humans.
Snakes, peacocks, crocodiles and other species can also be found for sale via Taobao, an e-commerce website run by Alibaba.
The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society called on China to make the ban permanent.
The US State Department said it will relocate personnel at its Wuhan consulate to the United States, while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his government was working with China to arrange a charter flight for Japanese nationals to return from Wuhan.
The outbreak has prompted widening curbs on movements within China, with Wuhan, a city of 11 million, on virtual lockdown and transport links all-but severed except for emergency vehicles.

Health authorities in Beijing urged people not to shake hands but instead salute using a traditional cupped-hand gesture. The advice was sent in a text message that went out to mobile phone users in the city on Sunday morning.
Beijing also postponed the reopening of the city’s schools and universities after the Lunar New Year holiday, state radio reported. Hong Kong had already delayed the reopening of schools to Feb. 17.
China has called for transparency in managing the crisis, after a cover-up of the spread of the SARS virus eroded public trust, but officials in Wuhan have been criticized for their handling of the current outbreak.
“People in my hometown all suspect the real infected patients number given by authorities,” said Violet Li, who lives in the Wuhan district where the seafood market is located.
Illustrating the extend of disruption to life in China, overall passenger travel declined by nearly 29% on Saturday, the first day of the Lunar New Year, from a year earlier, with air passengers down nearly 42%, a transportation ministry official said.
Many cinemas across China were closed with major film premieres postponed.
Cruise operators including Royal Caribbean Cruises, and Costa Cruises said they had canceled a combined 12 cruises that had been scheduled to embark from Chinese ports before Feb. 2.
Hong Kong Disneyland and the city’s Ocean Park were closed on Sunday. Shanghai Disneyland, which expected 100,000 visitors daily through the holiday period, has already closed.
Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, although some health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of these efforts.