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.”