Golf back in trou­bled Pak­istan af­ter 11-year hia­tus

Shanghai Daily - - SPORTS - GOLF (AFP)

BIRDS were re­leased over fair­ways and cer­e­mo­nial drives were struck as in­ter­na­tional golf re­turned to Pak­istan yes­ter­day af­ter an 11-year ab­sence.

A full field of 132 play­ers from around the globe were tee­ing up in the Asian Tour’s UMA CNS Open Cham­pi­onship at Karachi Golf Club, the lat­est thaw­ing of re­la­tions with the mil­i­tancy-hit coun­try that has spent years in the sport­ing wilder­ness.

“Com­ing back to Pak­istan is a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity for us,” Robert An­drew, event di­rec­tor of the Asian Tour said, brush­ing off any se­cu­rity con­cerns.

“This is the start­ing point for fu­ture years af­ter the suc­cess of this event.”

No ma­jor golf tour has vis­ited Pak­istan since 2007.

The last sched­uled tour­na­ment, in 2008, was can­celled af­ter a wave of in­sur­gent at­tacks.

“It is al­ways good to be here as peo­ple are very lovely and friendly,” said Aus­tralian golfer Mar­cus Both. “I came here 10 years ago. The per­cep­tion is bad but in re­al­ity it is very dif­fer­ent.”

The 2009 at­tack on Sri Lanka’s bus in La­hore, in which eight peo­ple were killed, caused all sport­ing vis­its to be sus­pended.

But suc­cess­ful mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in the coun­try’s north­west near the Afghan bor­der and crack­downs in ur­ban cen­ters, in­clud­ing the restive port city of Karachi, have im­proved the sit­u­a­tion.

The coun­try has twice hosted the Pak­istan Su­per League cricket fi­nals fea­tur­ing in­ter­na­tional stars plus suc­cess­ful lim­ite­dover se­ries against Zim­babwe, a World XI and Sri Lanka in the past 18 months.

They cleared the way for more sports with squash, ten­nis and now golf hav­ing re­turned.

Walls come down

Former Asian Tour win­ner and In­dian na­tional Digvi­jay Singh said ar­riv­ing in Pak­istan felt like home, sug­gest­ing sport could pave the road for bet­ter re­la­tions be­tween Is­lam­abad and Delhi.

“I am re­ally feel­ing home here and we are so over­whelm­ingly wel­comed here. We are see­ing the same faces not dif­fer­ent to us,” Singh said. “Sports should bring the in­vis­i­ble walls down be­tween the two coun­tries.”

In­dia-Pak­istan ties, in­clud­ing sports and cul­tural con­tacts, plum­meted af­ter deadly 2008 at­tacks in Mum­bai, which New Delhi blamed on Pak­istani mil­i­tants. While cricket re­mains the undis­puted num­ber one sport in Pak­istan, golf is pop­u­lar with the coun­try’s pow­er­ful army, with mil­i­tary ar­eas where the top brass re­side fre­quently home to some of Pak­istan’s best cour­ses.

Pak­istan’s Navy are host­ing this week’s Asian Tour event, which has a US$300,000 prize fund.

“There is a very over­whelm­ing re­sponse by for­eign play­ers and that sur­prised us,” said Naval Com­modore Mush­taq Ahmed.

Pak­istan hosted its first Asian Tour event in 1989, which was won by Filipino Frankie Mi­noza. The coun­try’s only Asian Tour win­ner re­mains Taimur Hus­sain who tri­umphed at an event in Myan­mar in 1998.

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