ISLAMABAD - Pakistan handball team coach Izharul Haq has said that his team has bright chances to retain the title of the SAF Games to be held in India.

Talking to The Nation, Izhar, along with female team coach Naseer and male team captain Shahid, said: “Pakistan handball team always performed exceptionally at international level despite facing a number of difficulties including shortage of funds, international exposure and non-availability of indoor practice areas. But still we managed to win medals in different international events.”

Izhar said International Handball Federation (IHF) had sent an Egyptian coach M Ali for training both male and female players for one week. “It was good experience to work with international coach but we need to give our players international exposure. The male players had trained abroad in the past which helped them a lot in performing exceptionally. Pakistan Handball Federation (PHF) is in talks to arrange training at Oman or Iran, which can prove very beneficial for the players.”

“The Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) has been providing excellent facilities to the players. PSB DG Dr Akhtar Nawaz Ganjera arranged special lights for us at Liaquat Gymnasium, which proved quite helpful for us, but now we are facing a lot of difficulties as lights are dim and mainly out of order, which are hampering our preparations. I request Dr Ganjera to order replacement of lights and install more lights,” he said and added: “We always face stiff resistance from Indians and now they have advantage of playing at their own soil. They are investing heavily on their players’ fitness and have also arranged international coach and provided state-of-the-art indoor facilities to them. I hope the PSB will at least ensure Liaqauat Gymnasium lights issue will be resolved soon.”

When asked about teams’ chances in the SAF Games, Izhar replied: “I am confident the players are in good shape and I hope they won’t disappoint the nation and managed to retain the title. I request the PHF to ensure the contingent departs a week earlier before start of the SAF Games so that we may adjust to the conditions and get much-needed practice, where the event will be held.”

Sharing his views, handball team skipper Shahid said: “Our preparations for SAF Games are quite well. We started the camp in August and now almost five months have passed, the players are in full rhythm and ready to defend their title.”

To a query, Shahid replied: “We have been provided best facilities at the PSB. We direly need jobs as when the players can fully concentrate on their games when they will have secure jobs. The corporate sector, multinationals, banks, and others must come forward to lend a helping hand to the players who in response will produce quality results and earn laurels for the country.”

Female team coach Naseer Ahmed said although it would be their first SAF Games, yet they were ready to fight for gold medal. “The main thing we lack is shortage of female players. These girls are multi-dimensional and play different games. We can only win medals at international stage, if females are provided with jobs, given international exposure and provided camps at different countries. I am utilizing all my international experience and trying my level best to take Pakistan female team to new heights,” Naseer concluded.