A recurring hamstring injury that has forced him to switch events was blessing in disguise for Haider Ali who went on to make history for Pakistan at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Ali, who won the first ever Paralympic gold for Pakistan, hoped that gold medal would inspire more players join the Paralympic Movement in his country which had fielded just two players at the Games.
In fact, Ali is the also the first ever and only Paralympic medallist from his nation having won the silver in Beijing 2008 and bronze in Rio 2016 in men’s F32 long jump.
“There are many national players in Pakistan. But due to financial issues and no monetary support from sponsors or even from government deny these para-athletes’ chances to participate in international competition. And hence they couldn’t attain the Paralympic qualification.
"I hope my gold medal will change the situation back home and we have more corporate houses and organisations coming forward to support the Movement and players,” said Ali who took his first Paralympic gold with a throw of 55.26m in his fifth attempt finishing almost 3m longer than Ukraine's Mykola Zhabnyak (52.43m) and Brazil’s Teixeira de Souza (51.86m).
“It was a big moment for me, my family and everyone in Pakistan. I am happy I can make history, make my country and countrymen proud. I have worked really hard in the last five years. This gold is for the people of Pakistan. I hope I can continue contributing in the development of Para sport in my country and world as well.”
Para sports in Pakistan
Ali had said that it was only after his Beijing 2008 silver that people in Pakistan knew about Para sport. “That medal gave me recognition and motivation to believe in myself and my dreams,” said Ali, who became a household name in his home city – Gujranwala - some 100km away from Lahore, the provincial Pakistan capital of Punjab.
Ali’s success then had also inspired many youngsters follow on his footsteps. “Pakistan has thousands of national Para athletes aspiring to become a Paralympic medallist like me. I hope now they receive the right support and we can have more para-athletes in the next Games. I also hope the gold medal will make the players with disability believe in hard work and their dreams,” he hoped.
The 36-year-old, who is employed with Water & Power Development Authority (WAPDA) as Line Superintendent, also hopes to receive a promotion or transfer to a higher department in his job once he is back in Pakistan. “I am hoping that I get a promotion in my job,” added Ali who acknowledged the support of WAPDA besides his family in his career.
Ali, who has hemiparesis on the right side since birth, made a ‘dream’ international debut in 2006 clinching four medals, including a gold in men’s long jump F37, at the 2006 FESPIC Games in Kuala Lumpur —a multi-sport event that became the Asian Para Games.
Over the years, Ali has been motivated by the success of Jamaican sprint legend Usain Bolt. The Pakistan star even has posters of Bolt at his home, looking at which he has grown up and inspired to win medals.
“What I like about him, Bolt has made us believe in our dreams and that hard work and perseverance always pay off."