September 19, 2021

Bridge fraternity grieved by Azwer-ul-Haq’s demise

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By Syed Khalid Mahmood

(Pakistan News & Features Services)
The bridge fraternity mourns the loss one of its longest-serving administrators of the country, Muhammad Azwer-ul-Haq, who succumbed to multiple organ failure on September 16. He was buried the following afternoon in Karachi. 

Besides being the Chairman Emiretus of the Karachi Bridge Associates (KBA) he also served as Secretary General of the Bridge Federation of Asia & Middle East (BFAME) after having had long stints in different roles at the Pakistan Bridge Federation (PBF) which he also headed briefly. 

Although the soft-spoken Azwer became more famous in the role of an organizer, he was also a fine exponent of the game himself and he participated in innumerable national, regional and international events during a long career. 

The demise of Jan-e-Alam Fazli, Masood Saleem, Ehsan Abbasi, Sultan Siddiqui, Parvez Mirza, Kemal Shoaib and Syed Ameer Hasan with Azwer-ul-Haq becoming the latest casualty, has broken the back of Pakistan bridge during the recent past. 

“The bridge world has lost an irreplaceable asset with the death of Azwer. He and I worked together on the Managing Committee of the PBF for several years establishing a functioning secretariat and an organization that oversaw the creation of an institution to serve the administration and promotion of bridge in the country. He continued his excellent work both domestically and internationally as Secretary of the Asia and Middle East zone,” Khurshid Hadi, Chairman, Mind Sports Association of Pakistan (MSAP), and two-times President of PBF, observed. 

It may be recalled that Khurshid Hadi and Azwer-ul-Haq were elected unopposed as President and Secretary of the PBF respectively in 1998 and they were credited to have revived the mind sport of bridge in Pakistan by organizing several landmark events.

“All of us are mourning today with the passing of Azwer He was a gentle soul and his small stature didn’t stop him being a giant in the bridge community. He worked tirelessly and selflessly with his passion shared by all of us. Our hearts are with his family. We have all lost a member of our family,” Pakistan’s bridge legend Zia Mahmood narrated. 

"It is indeed a profound loss to intellectual sport of bridge in not only at levels of Bridge administration in Pakistan but also to all National Bridge Organizations (NBOs) in BFAME. I had picked him up and brought him in the international bridge at Asian geographical sphere. He established his worth with hard work and technical knowhow,” Mazhar Jafri, the longest serving member of World Bridge Federation (WBF), having mentored Azwer, stated. 

“It's really shocking news to hear the sad news about our dear friend Azwar. He was a dear brother and a real gentleman who had cordial relations with almost every one he worked with to promote bridge in our zone. He was a great organizer. I am sure he will be missed by all members of the bridge community in our countries,” Bahjat Majali, President BFAME, noted. 

“How do you learn to manage without your go-to man for all seasons and every kind of reason? When in doubt, ask Azwer. And now when he has left us and I don’t doubt that every bridge player in our BFAME community feels that the ground we stood on has been pulled from under our feet. Last night when I learnt of Azwer’s passing my first thought was: who is going to inform everyone that he has left us? He filled so many shoes, wore so many hats, and he was friend, colleague and companion in the struggle to keep the bridge flag flying,” Rehana Saigol, a former President of the PBF, remarked. 

“The sad demise of Azwer my friend who was just like a brother came as a real shock. His loss has deprived of an ardent bridge administrator, organizer and a great human being. The whole bridge fraternity will miss him particularly in Asia and Middle East,” Ihsan Qadir, Chief Tournament Director of the PBF, recognized.

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September 18, 2021

New Zealand’s abandonment of Pakistan tour may have huge impact

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By Ehsan Qureshi 

(Pakistan News & Features Services)
New Zealand have deserted the Pakistan tour abruptly which may have huge negative impact in a bid to fully restore international cricket in the country. Tom Latham's team, in a blink of an eye, called off Pakistan tour after a mysterious security alert. 

The Black Caps had landed in Pakistan after a wait of 18 years to play a short series of three One-day Internationals in Rawalpindi which were to be followed by five Twenty20 Internationals in Lahore. But a security alert shattered and shook everything. 

Scores of cricket enthusiasts waiting to enter the Pindi Stadium on and millions preparing to watch action on television across the globe on September 17 were obviously shell shocked upon hearing the news of cancellation of the tour. 

After NZ pulling off the tour, England’s men and women teams next month’s short tour is also in doubt while Australia and West Indies, scheduled to tour Pakistan next season, might also be jeopardized. So this abrupt cancellation of the series may harm the Pakistan cricket in a big way. 

Pakistan cricket was in wilderness after an attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009 at Lahore. However things were rosy after Zimbabwe, West Indies, Sri Lanka and South African teams visited Pakistan and the Pakistan Super League (PSL), with dozens of foreign players, was also being staged in the country for the past few seasons. 

"This is a huge blow to Pakistan cricket," Javed Miandad, a former Pakistan captain, thought. 

"When our forces were providing New Zealand security of highest level, their calling off the tour was unjustified,” the legendary batsman, who had slammed 163 on his Test debut against New Zealand in 1976-77, pointed out. 

"Crazy day it has been! Feel so sorry for the fans and our players. Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating. Especially when it’s not shared!! Which world is NZ living in??NZ will hear us at ICC,” the newly elected PCB Chairman, Ramiz Raja, tweeted.

It was indeed a stressful and deeply disappointing day for top government, PCB officials, millions cricket lovers in Pakistan and across the globe. 

Federal Interior Minister, Shaikh Rasheed Ahmed, known for a calling a spade a spade, didn’t hide his feeling as he was shocked with the decision of the New Zealand government and their team to suddenly pull out of tour without sharing information with Pakistan’s security agencies.

"Our security agencies have no reports of any attack on New Zealand team nor they shared any information with us,” he declared. 

Shaikh Rasheed said that a small hoax security alert caused a massive fiasco and Black Caps calling off the tour on the basis of hearsay was upsetting and disappointing. 

Without naming anyone, Interior Minister thought the New Zealand action to be a conspiracy against Pakistan and Pakistan cricket. “Our enemies don’t want to see security and stability returning to our region after withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan and formation of Taliban Government,” he said, alleging that enemies and foreign elements had joined hands to sabotage Pakistan cricket. 

While the television channels broke the news in afternoon and kept debating the issue late into the evening, the national newspapers carried banner headlines of the New Zealanders calling off tour the following morning.

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September 12, 2021

Azeem Sarwar: My Top Mentor

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By Syed Khalid Mahmood

(Pakistan News & Features Services)

It’s extremely painful to narrate obituary of someone whom who have idolized all your life or those who are the dearest to your heart. Azeem Sarwar Saheb was both to me. He has left this mortal world, after a brief illness, on September 12, having celebrated his 79th birthday not very long ago. 

Having conceived, anchored and produced ‘Aalami Sports Round Up’ and ‘Subh-e-Pakistan’ which are considered blockbusters due to their record-breaking audience and following, he was also credited to have scouted, trained and groomed a number of promising youngsters who later became success stories in the media industry. 

Azeem Sarwar has been the top mentor in my life. Having first interacted with him in June 1985, he remained the greatest source of inspiration and motivation to me for the past 36 years. His teachings and lessons will continue guiding me until I live in this world. 

I was among one of his millions of ardent fans and followers when Ehsan Qureshi had taken me to the Broadcasting House, located at Karachi’s bustling M A Jinnah Road, on another warm June evening of 1985. Little had I comprehended that this moment was going to lead a turnaround in my life.

The amount of confidence he instilled in my veins by picking up the brief report transcribed by me and choosing to narrate it himself that night in ‘Aalami Sports Round Up’ was hard to describe in words. The following day he made me super confident by offering a contract which was at par with the top broadcasters doing the programme. It was incredible.

Besides providing the much needed opportunity of showcasing talents, nurtured and groomed me and all my teammates in such a manner that we had actually become destined for success after the stints at Aalami Sports Round Up and Subh-e-Pakistan both of which were among radio blockbusters. 

Lots of people all over the world are aware about his accomplishments as a voice-over artist, producer, playwright, presenter, compere, announcer, commentator, editor and columnist because he became a legend in his own lifetime, but only those like me, who have had the honour of working with him for a long time, are aware of his other outstanding qualities like leadership and mentoring. 

The whole world knows that he has immortalized himself by having conceived, planned and produced iconic programmes like ‘Rung hee Rung Jaidi Kay Sang’ and ‘Jaidi Kay Mehman’ but it’s probably not common knowledge yet that he has been chiefly responsible, through ‘Aalami Sports Round Up’ and ‘Subh-e-Pakistan’ for discovering and developing a young crop of sports enthusiasts into acclaimed journalists, broadcasters, anchors, analysts and presenters who went on to rule the media industry for the next quarter of a century. 

Like Abdul Majid Bhatti, Arif Afzal Usmani, Ehsan Qureshi and Syed Muhammad Soofi, I also have had the good fortune of being a part of his team in both the programmes. Shahid Akhtar Hashmi, Owais Naseer and Abdul Rasheed Shakoor were among those who excelled from ‘Aalami Sports Round Up’ while Ibrahim Khan and Farooq Ahmad Khan also played their roles admirably. 

It was an honour for me to have been reunited with the living legend when, upon assuming charge as the Chief Editor of Ahang and Pakistan Calling, he invited me to join their editorial team. His wealth of knowledge on national and international affairs, besides his expertise in writing and editing, transformed both the publications from an official gazette into proper magazines which were dispatched with pride to the Pakistan’s embassies and trade missions all over the world. 

He retired from Radio Pakistan in 2002 and it was my good fortune to accompany him when he completed his last day at office. I found him to be perfect mentor in many ways as he always led by example, believed in teamwork and was in the forefront in taking up the most challenging of roles. He remained a firm believer of quality who didn’t lose any artistry even when working at incredibly fast pace. Meeting and beating deadline was his passion. 

Blessed with unmatched humane qualities, he was hard task master during the working sessions but his sense of humor, besides care and generosity, kept all his associates glued to him at all times. He was the troubleshooter and the father figure for all of us all long. And he will remain so when resting in Heavens.

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September 6, 2021

US Open 9-Ball Pool Championship 2021 to feature maiden Pakistan appearance

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Pakistan News & Features Services

Cue sports around the world feature a variety of games, such as Snooker, 9-Ball Pool, 8-Ball Pool, Billiards and 3 Cushion Carom. While Pakistan’s cueists have regularly participated in snooker events organised by the Asian Confederation of Billiard Sports (ACBS) and the International Billiards and Snooker Federation (IBSF) the country’s appearance in other cue sports has remained negligible. 

Pakistan boasts a number of titles in amateur snooker, both at the global and continental level. However, while enjoying an equal or even greater status in the world, 9-Ball is a rarity in the country. 

The Islamabad-based Shahram Changezi is currently the only cueist from Pakistan pursuing 8-Ball Pool as well as 9-Ball Pool along with snooker. He already has snooker medals and honours under his belt. Besides being the national ranking champion 2007 and 2008, he secured bronze medals in the 2010 Asian Games Snooker Team Event (China), the 2015 Asian Team Snooker Championship (Iran) and the 2015 World Team Snooker Championship (Pakistan). 

Shahram has also been making arrangements in his personal capacity to participate in 8-Ball Pool and 9-Ball Pool international events. His prominent performances included finishing runner-up in the 2008 All Arab 9 Ball Pool Championship (Kuwait) and being a quarter-finalist in the 2018 US Open Chinese 8 Ball Pool Championship. 

The US Open Championship is the biggest event in 9-Ball Pool in the world. The event will take place in Harrah’s Resort, Atlantic City, USA, from September 13 to 18. As many as 256 players take part in this prestigious event, which, for the first time, will feature a Pakistani player. Beside all the prominent Pool players of the world, world professional snooker champion, Judd Trump, has also confirmed his entry and will make his 9 Ball Pool debut in this event. 

Pakistan’s lone participant in the US Open Championship, Shahram Changezi, is a full-time employee at National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) in Islamabad, where he works as the Assistant Director Sports. The institution has consistently supported Shahram in his national and international participation.

“The amount of support and respect I have received from NUST is extraordinary. Although primarily an academic institution, it offers full support to any student or staff participating in sports at national and international levels. Once again, NUST has stepped up to support me for my US Open 9 Ball Championship 2021 endeavour, and I am deeply grateful to them,” the ace cueist acknowledged. 

“It is going to be an invigorating experience to compete among the world’s best 256 players. Personally, it is a matter of pride and honour for me to see my name as the first Pakistani cueist to take part in the US Open 9 Ball Championship. I hope my participation will create a stir in the cue sports community in Pakistan and will be a source of increased interest in 9 Ball Pool in the country,” he added. 

“I have been practicing in a local Islamabad club (Breakers Snooker F-11), where they have an international standard 9 Ball Pool table. On my request, they immediately recovered the cloth and changed the balls to facilitate me. I am practicing as many hours as possible on a daily basis and I will try to give my best in my maiden US Open 9 Ball Championship,” he concluded.

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September 1, 2021

Fantoni’s inclusion in Italian line-up mars Bermuda Bowl qualifiers

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Pakistan News & Features Services

The ongoing European qualifiers for the Bermuda Bowl World Bridge Championship 2022, currently taking place 100% online due to COVID-19, have been rocked following the inclusion of the controversial Fulvio Fantoni in the hosts Italy line-up. 

According to details, the Scottish team refused to play the Italian team on the opening day of the qualifiers, resulting in their 0-12 defeat. Wales, Slovenia, Lithuania, Ukraine and another seven nations were reported to have declined to play Italy, with the same dire consequences for their ranking. 

Italy, as the host country, has already qualified for the Bermuda Bowl 2022, scheduled to be held from March 27 to April 9 in Salsomaggiore Terme. The inclusion of Fantoni, having been accused of cheating in the past, in the Italian team, has angered the other participating countries although the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) had overturned his convictions. 

Scotland stood out as the first nation to raise its concerns, along with the great Norwegian player Brogeland and the German players Auken-Welland, all three of whom resigned from their respective teams in protest. 

The 57-year-old Fantoni is a six-time world champion besides being a World Grand Master. Claudio Nunes, the second-ranked World Grand Master in 2011, has been his regular partner for many years. In September 2015, Fantoni and Nunes were publicly accused of cheating by orienting a played card to show a missing high honour in the led suit at the European Bridge Championship in 2014. 

Three separate investigations were conducted and they were found guilty. The players' appeal to the CAS resulted in a judgement in their favour in January 2018. Since then only the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) sanction has remained in place and all others have been overturned.

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August 28, 2021

Jawed Karim to represent Pakistan in Asian, world bodies AGM

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Pakistan News & Features Services

The newly elected President of the Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA), Jawed Karim, will be representing the country for the first time at the continental as well as the global body of cue sports next month. 

Having served the PBSA in various capacities, including Senior Vice President, he has now been elected unopposed as for the term of next four years. 

The PBSA media spokesman has announced that Jawed Karim will be attending the annual general meetings (AGM) of the Asian Confederation of Biliards Sports (ACBS) as well as the International Billiards & Snooker Federation (IBSF), scheduled to be held in Doha, Qatar, on September 16 and 17 respectively. 

The AGMs of the ACBS and the IBSF will be taking place on the sidelines of the twin events, the ACBS 36th Asian Men Snooker Championship 2021 and the IBSF Qatar 6-Red Snooker World Cup 2021 being hosted by the Qatar Billiards & Snooker Association (QBSA). 

Meanwhile the PBSA has selected Muhammad Asif, a former world champion, and Babar Masih to represent Pakistan in both the events while Haris Tahir has been chosen as stand-by cueist.

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August 9, 2021

Legendary teammates meet ailing cricketer on deathbed

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Pakistan News & Features Services

Mike Hendrick, former England and Derbyshire bowler, died at the age of 72 a few days ago as he was suffering from bowel cancer and was in his last stage. 

This reunion took place in Derbyshire just a week or so before his eventual demise. John Lever, Ian Botham, Bob Taylor, Geoff Miller, Derek Randall, John Emburey and Geoff Boycott, all of them his contemporaries and mates for decades, gathered to bid their farewell to their beloved ‘Hendo’ being aware that his days were numbered. 

It was a noble and praiseworthy gesture on part of Hendrick’s illustrious teammates, quite a few of them living legends, to have taken the time out of their busy schedules during summer to attend to one of their buddies who was literally on deathbed.

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June 24, 2021

Detroit ready to host Champions Cup 2021 in July

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By Naeem-ul-Haq in USA

(Pakistan News & Features Services) 

Cricket returns to Detroit in a big way as all is set for the second edition of the Champions Cup to be staged here from July 2 to 5. Global Sports Inc. is ready to organize the annual event again, which was launched in 2019 but could not be held last year due to the pandemic of COVID-19. 

Cricketers from all parts of the United States will be assembling in Detroit once more as a handsome prizemoney of US$18,000 will be at stake during the four-day extravaganza. 

The winners will be pocketing a jackpot of US$10,000 while the runners-up will be collecting a purse of US$3,500. There will also be individual prizes of US$4,500 for the outstanding performers. 

Besides hosts Michigan, participants from the states of Ohio, California, Pennsylvania, Texas and North Carolina among others will be in action during the upcoming Champions Cup 2021. 

A couple of teams from neighbouring Canada had also confirmed their entries for the event but sadly they won’t be able to come over to Detroit due travel restrictions. 

The Champions Cup provides greater opportunity for the local cricketers as the tournament rules, unlike most other events, don’t allow teams to field players from other states. It’s good for the younger players who can make it to the state outfits. 

Having been associated with Global Sports Inc. for the last many years, I have personally witnessed the passion and commitment of their top functionaries who remain eager to promote cricket not only in Michigan but all over the US. 

It may be recalled Troy Tigers had emerged triumphant in the inaugural Champions Cup in 2019. Let’s wait and see which team steals the limelight among 10 participants this time round. 

Let me acknowledge the contribution of Shahid Ahmed and Dr Shaukat Rashid in launching the Champions Cup which is expected to become one of the most sought after annual cricket events in the region. 

Meanwhile Global Sports Inc. will also be organizing Level-II Coaching Course from July 2 to 4. Pakistan’s former Test fast bowler, Jalaluddin, who pioneered the concept of modern coaching there, will be the centre of attraction once more as he will pass on his terrific knowledge about the game to the American teenagers. 

Having played lots of cricket with Jalaluddin for Pakistan Customs, where he was also our captain, it’s always a privilege and pleasure to work alongside him and once again I will be there to assist him in the three-day coaching course. I am eagerly looking forward to the action packed weekend in Michigan early next month.

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