Fakhar Shah Is On A Mission To Bring Baseball To Pakistan

Fakhar Shah Is On A Mission To Bring Baseball To Pakistan
In an exclusive interview with TFT-ND, Syed Fakhar Ali Shah says that he was born on 2 July 1985 in Jhang district of Punjab province. His father the late Syed Khawar Shah was a famous sports personality who had served on key sports administrative positions, which include former President of Pakistan Federation Baseball, Former Director General of Sports Punjab, former Executive Member of Pakistan Olympic Association, Senior Vice President of Pakistan Archery Federation and others. Therefore, the sporting atmosphere at home had developed a keen interest in Fakhar Ali Shah for sports since his childhood.

Fakhar had been a great player of baseball, swimming and cricket. He was also very interested in kabaddi and wrestling. Having completed his education from Lahore, he holds a master’s degree in Sports Sciences from the University of Central Punjab, Lahore.

In 1992, Fakhar Shah's father introduced the game of baseball in Pakistan and Fakhar got involved from the first day. He was just seven-and-a-half when he attended his first ever international baseball event in 1992. He was even taking care of the official meeting as a young child, which led to introducing the Pakistan Baseball Federation in 1993. He says, “There were 50 people with different sports backgrounds, including me, who laid the foundation of the Baseball Federation. It was the moment when I was gifted the dream for baseball by my father Khawar Shah. Afterwards, I completely devoted myself to baseball and was skilled enough to play so that anyone could not accuse my presence in the team as being the result of nepotism. It was my father's dream for me to be a number one player, so I always strived to perform extraordinarily. I believe ‘If I play well, I can help the team win.’”

With such a mindset, he was already overseeing young players when he was just 16.

After the passing of his father, Fakhar Shah assumed the presidency of the Pakistan Baseball Federation, and he is sparing no effort in keeping the game of baseball alive in the country and representing Pakistani baseball teams worldwide. Through his persistent endeavors and unwavering determination, the Pakistan Baseball Team has successfully competed against top-class teams from Japan, China, the US, Thailand, Taiwan, and Malaysia. However, the pinnacle of Pakistan's achievement came when they qualified for the first-ever international tournament outside of Asia, which took place in Brooklyn in 2016.

Syed Fakhar Ali Shah currently serves as the Vice President of the Baseball Federation of Asia and the President of the Pakistan Federation Baseball. He is widely recognised both domestically and globally for his esteemed positions as a Member at Large of the BFA, District Administrator of PLL, and Executive Member of POA.

Since 2018, Fakhar has been working as the Director of Sports in Bahria Town Lahore. He also oversees various sports academies, including those for baseball, badminton, basketball, archery, cricket, football, tennis and others in Bahria. He has previously served as a Team Leader and Head Coach in numerous international baseball championships, including the Intercontinental Baseball Cup 2012 in the USA, the 19th BFA Under Fifteen Asian Baseball Championship 2017 in Japan, the 10th BFA Under Twelve Asian Baseball Championship 2018 in Taiwan, and the World Baseball Classic Qualifier 2020 in the USA.

Moreover, he successfully organised a significant number of sports events at both the national and international levels. National baseball events have been held in Lahore in various years since 2012 until the present day. International events have taken place in Japan, Pakistan, the UAE, and the US from 2006 to 2018. Currently, alongside his partner and leader of the Pakistan Baseball Team, Muhammad Yaseen Araian, Fakhar is leading the team to Panama for a scheduled championship. After years of struggle, this tournament represents a significant opportunity for Pakistan to compete against established baseball nations such as Panama and Nicaragua, as well as emerging programs like Argentina and Brazil.

Prior to this, the Pakistan Baseball Team successfully participated in the fifth Asian Baseball Championship in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, from August 17 to 19, as mentioned by Fakhar.

Fakhar Shah mentions that he himself participated as a player in the fourth Asian Cup Baseball Championship 2001 in Indonesia and won a silver medal. He also clinched a silver medal in the 6th Asia Baseball Cup 2004 in Thailand. Additionally, he has been actively involved in various seminars, coaching clinics, and major meetings in collaboration with other sports organisations. For instance, he represented the Pakistan Federation Baseball as the Executive Director in a meeting of the Women's Baseball World Cup in Edmonton, Canada, in 2012.

Likewise, he participated in both the BFA Baseball Clinic 2005 in Phetchaburi, Thailand, and the Lifeguard Swimming Course 2004 in Lahore, Pakistan. Furthermore, he obtained an internationally recognised certificate in Adult and Pediatric First Aid Clinic from Red Cross America, which was organised by Virginia and West Virginia on 7 February 2005. Moreover, he took part in the OCA (Olympic Council of Asia) Sports Administration Course conducted by Punjab Olympic Association in Lahore, Pakistan, from 4 to 10 May. Similarly, he completed a course in Solidarity Badminton Technical Coaching in Lahore from 25 May to 9 June 2015.

Fakhar emphasises that, with the highest goals of the Pakistan Federation Baseball in mind, he introduced the game of baseball among male and female players in schools, colleges, and universities across the country. During his tenure as the Executive Director of the federation, he worked diligently for the development and promotion of baseball among youth and women. As a result of his tireless efforts, Pakistan's ranking in world baseball remained outstanding, and currently, Pakistan ranks 27th globally and 5th in Asia.

Shah mentions that he has recently revamped his strategy by expanding his research for the World Baseball Classic. He continues to encourage young players to take up baseball in the country. Rather than converting local cricketers into baseball players, he has shifted his focus to recruiting athletes with Pakistani heritage who were already excelling in baseball at a high level in places like America and Canada.

"Before the World Baseball Classic Qualifiers in 2020, which were cancelled due to COVID-19, I started searching for individuals on social networks who were born in Pakistan but studying in the USA or Canada and playing baseball," Shah says. This approach helped him discover talented individuals like Ayad Ansari, one of the team's catchers, Adam Khan, a 6-foot-4 right-hander attending the University of British Columbia, and Amir Asghar, a pitcher for Bethune Cookman University. "They can throw at 85 miles per hour. In total, there may be two or three players who can throw at that speed," Shah notes. “In 2020, I had no players who played college baseball. Now, I have more than 10 players who are playing in college. That makes a significant difference," he adds.

Shah's search for skilled players also led him to Gibran Hamdan, a 41-year-old former NFL quarterback who initially learned to play baseball in Kuwait. Nearly 20 years ago, Hamdan excelled as a high-average, solid-glove first baseman for Indiana University. Unfortunately, due to testing positive for COVID-19, he is unable to travel to Panama for the scheduled championship.

Despite the presence of strong teams such as Korea, Japan and Taiwan in the Asian region, Pakistan has made its mark in Asia and around the world. All credit goes to Khawar Shah and Fakhar Shah, who tirelessly worked day and night for the promotion and development of the game.

Fakhar states that he has made significant contributions to the development of women's baseball in Pakistan. Thanks to his untiring efforts, Pakistan's Women's Baseball team successfully participated in the 7th WBSC Women's Baseball World Cup 2016, held in Korea. Additionally, the Pakistan team regularly participates in the Asian Women's Baseball Championship.

He has also rendered great services for youth baseball development in Pakistan, establishing numerous baseball academies in different cities across the country. He particularly provides opportunities to young athletes from remote and terrorism-affected regions like former FATA and Balochistan to play and train in these academies. The youth baseball players from these academies represent Pakistan in international baseball tournaments. Pakistan's youth baseball teams regularly participate in the Under-12, Under-15, and Under-18 Asian Baseball Championships every year. The Pakistan Under-12 baseball team also participated in the U-12 Baseball World Cup in Taiwan in 2013, as mentioned by Fakhar.

However, Fakhar expressed his disappointment that the Federation is currently almost entirely self-funded and lacks support from the government. Shah and his organisation provide equipment and coaches to baseball players in Pakistan. Furthermore, there is a lack of proper baseball-specific fields in the country, and the team frequently faces challenges such as not having a pitching machine, new team uniforms, and proper meals while playing abroad. "We don't have a pitching machine where my players can face a 100 mph ball. It costs -- shipping and duty -- I need around $30,000 for it," Shah says. The same amount is being spent on the camp, equipment, and uniforms. Despite these challenges, Shah's enthusiasm and optimism for the future remain undiminished – evident in every word he speaks.

Fakhar mentions that in addition to his significant contributions to the development of baseball in Pakistan, he has also become a renowned motivational speaker for the youth. He has gained overwhelming recognition nationally and internationally by speaking at numerous sports forums. He delivers lectures to inspire the youth at different sports events, urging them to participate maximally in various sports at both the domestic and global levels. As a result of his sports-related motivational speeches, the youth are actively participating in baseball and other games.

Currently, Fakhar's ultimate mission is the development of baseball in and outside Pakistan. He has been striving for years to bring the Pakistan Baseball Team into the world's top ten. Ultimately, his selfless dedication and deep devotion to the game of baseball have not only introduced it in Pakistan but have also made it the most popular sport across the country, he concludes.