Dodging the bullets, Lyari residents take refuge in sports

Football tournament cancelled, boxing clubs used by gangs but locals organise foosball event to remain sane. DESIGN: FAIZAN DAWOOD (Express Tribune)

KARACHI: The chief of police announced on Monday that it will take three days to clear Lyari of criminals.

The claims may seem unreal but come Thursday, the residents hope to breathe air and not gun-smoke. The shops are running out of stock, the schools are closed indefinitely and mobile phones have been rendered useless. However, Lyari’s sport-living community, while the war wages on outdoors, has refused to give in, carrying on with life as normal.

“There isn’t much to do right now but play foosball at home,” said Noor Bakhsh Baloch who has organised a tournament in his house with participants sneaking through the barriers, risking their lives amid the flying bullets for the love of the sport. Lyari has been popular not just for the volatile political situation and the gang wars. It has also been the home to an active sports culture, producing talent that has made its name in various disciplines at the national and international level.

According to Bakhsh, the football field had not just been a safe place but also a safe haven and an escape for Lyari’s youth but the current situation has forced the local athletes to lock themselves in their houses. The South Football Association has also cancelled the South Karachi Football Championship scheduled to take place from April 28 featuring 12 local clubs.

With disappointment all round, Bakhsh, with a friend – Aslam Baloch – who runs a foosball and snooker club, launched this tournament with the participants including footballers robbed of the right to take part in the cancelled event. The event starts in the afternoon, as would a proper outdoor tournament, and goes on till midnight.

“We need an escape and we love sports,” Aslam told The Express Tribune. “This is why it’s always a good distraction from the violence around us. Many families are leaving the area but the majority cant just abandon their houses. With that in mind, we needed to plan something. If football can’t take place on the field, it can happen on a table. The shooting and the killings don’t affect us anymore.”

However, the situation is not as simple for the boxers.

According to Shakoor Elahi, who joined the Saifi Boxing Club to save himself from drugs and gang-wars, there was no middle path in Lyari – one needs to take sides. Whenever violence breaks out, the gangs make the boxing clubs their hideouts and the athletes are forced to be a part of the violence.

“Everything is shut except the boxing clubs,” said Elahi. “This is the place to prepare for the destruction outside. Four of my boxer friends have already given in to one of the gangs here. We are waiting for peace but sometimes even I’m tempted to be part of the violence because I don’t see my boxing career going anywhere with Lyari shut down for weeks like this.”

A 16-year-old footballer Adam Mohammad has his hopes high despite waking up to the sound of bullets everyday.

“Although playing foosball at Bakhsh’s place is not enough it keeps me sane in the middle of this madness,” said Mohammad. “My school is shut and I don’t have anything to do all day. I don’t mind sneaking into Bakhsh’s place for the tournament. It’s a good time-pass and it satisfies my urge to play football as well. I do hope things get back to normal though.”

by Natasha Raheel

Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2012.