“We have had the worst few years and so many difficulties. But we are here and the goal is to win the medal for Pakistan,” exclaimed Muhammad Inam as he will be defending his gold medal at the 86kg freestyle wrestling event at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham on Friday.
Inam will be playing in the pre-quarter-finals and his first fight will be against Scotland’s Kieran Malone.
The 33-year-old has been one of the most successful athletes Pakistan produced in the last 15 years, but the fact is that most of his success came from sheer determination, talent and the ability to pivot towards his own akhara (wrestling gym) in his home town Gujranwala. He coaches children in the hopes to transmit his skill and wants one of them to win the medal too.
Inam was the flag bearer for Pakistan along with cricketer Bismah Maroof in the opening ceremony of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Inam became the world champion in beach wrestling thrice, most recently in Rome in 2021 and his goal is to serve the country in each of the events he plays throughout his life.
However, the journey after 2018 has been the rockiest for the Pakistani wrestlers according to Inam. Despite him clearly deserving of every possible support from the government and corporate sector during the pandemic, the horrid reality saw no facilities or motivation left for many athletes to continue.
“I won the gold medal in Commonwealth Games in 2018 but after that in Pakistan, unfortunately, players’ futures and careers have only been played with,” Inam told The Express Tribune, referring to abject negligence to the sports and athletes in the country by the sports bodies and the officials at the helm of the affairs.
“You must see that from 2019 till 2020, there was no training camp, either national or international. We were all left without any training and at our homes. Then there was the Covid-19 outbreak.
“The top athletes and wrestlers were given all the facilities internationally and they why were provided with bio-secure bubbles so they could compet in Olympics. Unfortunately in Pakistan, we were forced to sit at our homes and many athletes left the sport. They got busy with other things in life.
“I just want to say that the entire period from 2018 till 2021 has been very difficult for Pakistani athletes, and wrestlers especially.”
Inam’s goal has been to raise the voice for the athletes. He was elected as the chief of the Pakistan Olympic Association’s Athlete’s Commission earlier this year and he feels that 2022 has been a sigh of relief for many athletes.
He pointed out that the 12 athletes, who can win Pakistan medals in 2024 Olympics have been given support and scholarships by the International Olympic Committee through the POA, and that has been a ray of hope for the athletes.
“In 2022 there was some justice done to the game. I want to thank POA and they helped us athletes like weightlifter Nooh Dastgir Butt, badminton player Mahoor Shahzad, javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem and the players from shooting and other disciplines. They are all going to receive US$625 every month, so this is encouraging. This has raised our morale, we’ll get it till the Paris Olympics,” said Inam.
He pointed out that Pakistan Wrestling Federation helped in setting the camp with all the national wrestlers and arranged a coach for them to prepare. He also mentioned that the Pakistan Sports Board organised the camp in the last four months. He said that with sports bodies taking interest, the situation has improved.
Writing letters for training abroad
Preparing at home has never been enough with the cut throat competition that is the standard in international wrestling events.
Inam has been requesting a long-term plan to support the wrestlers and the preparations for the 2022 Commonwealth Games has not been at par with the rest of the countries in the world.
“The most important aspect of preparing for the Commonwealth Games was to train abroad, but unfortunately, we didn’t get it. We made so much effort for the last three months. We wrote a letter to the PSB, then we met the former Minister of Inter-Provincial Coordination Dr Fahmida Mirza and then the new minister Ehsanur Rehman Mizari , but we did not get the international training.
“Whatever happened, happened. Now we are here and the goal is to win the medal for Pakistan,” explained Inam.
Inam also wants to bear the flag in the closing ceremony as the athlete who performs the best gets to do the honours.
Inam will be going for the third Commonwealth Games medal this time, having won the gold in 2010 and 2018 previously.
Wrestling has won the most number of medals for Pakistan in the Commonwealth Games, which is 21: it includes 11 silver and 10 bronze medals since the country made debut in 1954.
Olympic dream is still alive
Inam is targeting the 2024 Paris Olympics and he is putting in all his efforts to achieve it.
“International training is the key to produce results, and I am going all in for that,” said Inam.
In the darkest of times, he keeps himself motivated by training his students in his akhara.
“I do it for my children at my akhara, my academy. They look up to me. For Gujranwala, for Pakistan, if I would quit then this entire dream and this little system I have created will collapse,” said Inam, as he got back to his business at the Commonwealth Games in the hopes of keeping the flame alive till he wins the medal at Olympics.
Other wrestlers from Pakistan include Inayatullah in the 65kg event.
Originally published at tribune.com.pk