When we think of the sport of boxing, Pakistan is not exactly one of the top ten things that would pop in your head or even one of the top 50 for that matter.
In the past, the country has given the world of boxing talents like Hussain Shah and Muhammad Waseem, but the interest has waned in the last couple of years and the sport is currently going through a slump.
However, some may argue that the good thing about hitting rock bottom is that there is only one way left to go, which is up.
This is exactly the kind of mentality that Mohammad Yunus Qambrani, owner and founder of Pak Shaheen Boxing Club in Karachi, carries and propagates.
Who is Mohammed Yunus Qambrani?
The 50-year-old is a resident of Lyari, which is one of the most volatile districts in Karachi but also a hotbed for footballing and boxing talents in an otherwise cricket-crazed nation, rightfully earning the nickname ‘Little Brazil’.
As a child, Qambrani described himself as weak and sickly, after a long battle with smallpox.
“At that time, when anyone contracted smallpox, chances of survival were little to none, but I was always told that I had a fighter attitude and I somehow made through,” Qambrani reminisced.
He was lucky to have survived through it, but the protracted illness had hampered his athletic ability. However, it did not dampen the passion he held for sports.
Qambrani trained as a boxer with his brother and even took part in the annual Sindh Games held in Larkana, but being more of a strategist than a fighter, he found his calling as a coach and eventually founded Pak Shaheen Boxing Club in 1993.
“When I created Pak Shaheen Club, I wanted to give the youth a platform and train boxers who were fight-ready for international tournaments, because that’s our goal,” he said, “we want to compete internationally and bring home medals now.”
“People, specifically in Lyari, don’t take education seriously. We have government schools but if the child does not go, it is not a big deal. In such cases, having sports as an outlet becomes vital and that’s what we are trying to do and make this outlet available to everyone.”
Pak Shaheen Club may not have been the first club to take on the challenge of scouting and honing boxing talents in Lyari, but grabbed everyone’s attention when they decided to train girls in the club.
Pakistan’s first all-female boxing club
“Long ago, I was sitting with some of my friends from the boxing fraternity and I asked why we weren’t training our girls and getting them to compete, so we can have more entries in competitions,” he told Sport360.
“At the time, my friends laughed and dismissed the idea saying that girls are delicate and in a sport as rough as boxing, where punches practically rain down on your face, there is no way any girl would ever sign up for it.”
In 2013, Qambrani made a bold decision of starting training for girls in his boxing club.
While getting women involved is a logical step forward, but for a conservative society that holds on to stereotypical ideals femininity, it’s unfathomable for young girls to train as boxers, let alone compete on an international level.
The decision immediately turned him into a pariah and a bit of a laughing stock among his peers, but the vitriol did not stop Qambrani from making it happen.
“If you set your mind to something, you have to find a way to shelter yourself from criticism and not let the harsh words get to you. I thought it through at least a 100 times and every time I was convinced that this is what the society needs and I believed in what I was doing, so that was it. There is no turning back from here now.”
What does the future hold?
Since the demise of Anwar Choudhry, a prominent Pakistani sports official and president of the International Boxing Association for five consecutive terms, in 2010, Pakistani boxing lost their only benefactor who had been driving the scene forward.
Qambrani insists that the current authorities do not provide sufficient support to the young boxers and has killed their appetite to compete and win.
“In our part of the world, young athletes struggle financially. For them, it’s either play a sport or use the funds for day to day necessities. So, if you ask a young boxer with great potential, to self-finance his trips to compete in international tournaments, there is no way he or she can do that. We need the authorities to step up and help the young athletes out,” he said.
With little support from the higher-ups, Qambrani also faces the challenge of a high rate of attrition among pupils, particularly girls as their families are divided when it comes to their involvement in the sport.
Despite these challenges, Qambrani is still working to inspire his students to continue their training.
“I wish to expand the facility and have camps for my students, so they can truly learn for themselves that boxing is a great sport. We have been featured in the news and my girls have performed well in various tournaments, to the point that people who used to laugh at me no longer do that anymore. So I just want to keep on working and bring some medals back home,” he said.
Qambrani is currently accumulating funds and expanding his club, but all those plans are currently on hold due to the COVID-19 lockdown imposed all over the world.
The club will be up and running once the lockdown is lifted. To learn more about Pak Shaheen Club, you can find them on Facebook here.