A few weeks away from the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in Tucson, Arizona, The Strike Out takes you for a trip to Western Asia, to meet one of France possible opponents in the tournament. We had the pleasure of talking with Syed Fakhar Ali Shah, the President of the Pakistani Baseball Federation, who is also a former International player and manager for Pakistan. We talk – amongst other things – about international baseball, Pakistan’s ambitious Academies program but also the Barcelone Olympic Games, Cricket, and what the future holds for Pakistani baseball, today in Asia, and tomorrow with an outlook towards the MLB Universe.
TSO : Hi Syed, and first of all many thanks for accepting to answer a few questions about Pakistani baseball. Could you tell us a bit about your journey as a player, manager and now president of the Pakistan Baseball Federation?
Syed Fakhar Ali Shah : My father Syed Khawar Shah (Late) introduced the baseball game in Pakistan in 1992. I have been associated with the sport since then. Initially, I was associated with the sport as a player and I participated in several international events. I also worked as Executive Director of Pakistan Federation Baseball for many years. My duties are to organize National & International Baseball Events, preparing Pakistan teams for any international tournament, organizing training camp, preparing players’ papers and so on.
After the death of my father Syed Khawar Shah in 2018, the General Council of Pakistan Federation Baseball has elected me as President.
TSO : As you mentioned, the Pakistan Baseball Federation was created by your father, Syed Khawar Shah, in 1992. How did the idea of bringing baseball to Pakistan appear? And how did the sports community react, in a country where Cricket is the national sport?
SFAS : When my father found out that Baseball will be included in 1992 Olympics, so he decided to introduce the Baseball Game in Pakistan. Because Baseball is similar to the Cricket and in Pakistan we have a lot of talent in Cricket. He believed that Pakistan Baseball will be in Top World Ranking early. Now Pakistan ranks 5th in Asia and 27 in the World.
The Sports Community feels happy to see a new Olympic Game in Pakistan but they were worried because Pakistan is a Cricket Loving country and all the sponsors, media etc. are available for Cricket, so how Mr. Khawar Shah will develop this game in Pakistan. But after the hard work of Mr. Khawar Shah, baseball (Men/Women) is not only played in schools, colleges and Universities but also in government departments and provinces.
TSO : What is the status of Pakistan baseball today, in terms of local clubs, leagues, registered players and competition?
SFAS : Over the last couple of years, Pakistan has taken part in or organised the following competitions
24th Khawar Shah National Baseball Championship 2018 Lahore
National Inter School Baseball Championship 2018 Lahore
10th U12 Asian Baseball Championship 2018 Taiwan
18th Asian Games 2018 Indonesia
15th National Women’s Baseball Championship 2018 Lahore
4th West Asia Baseball Cup 2019 Sri Lanka
29th Asian Baseball Championship 2019 Taiwan
10th Under-15 Asian Baseball Championship 2019 China
2nd Asian Women’s Baseball Championship 2019 China
This year, the Pakistan national team will depart for the United States to participate in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier 2020, while Pakistan U-12 and U-18 teams will compete in the Asian Championships in Taiwan. Keeping in view my work as President Pakistan Federation Baseball and Executive Director West Asia Baseball Federation of Asia, the General Congress of the Baseball Federation of Asia has elected me as Member at Large of BFA in 2019.
Due to our hard work in the development of women’s baseball in Pakistan and in the West Asia Region, the Malaysia and Egypt’s women baseball teams are visiting Pakistan.
Pakistan ranks 5th in Asia and 27th in the world while Pakistan Women’s team ranks 8th in Asia and 17th in the world.
I also work for the promotion of Youth Baseball in Pakistan especially we promote Baseball in New Merge Area (FATA) of Khyer Pakhtonkhaw. We established 2 Baseball Academies there for the training of young Baseball players. The youth players of that area have participated in different International Baseball Events.
In terms of domestic baseball, Pakistan currently has 10 local teams and 5 academies, with 3000 players taking part in 11 different competitions (See below)
TSO : How do you imagine baseball can develop in Pakistan and more generally in Western Asia, over the next decade or so?
SFAS : Without sponsor, it is very difficult to promote Baseball in Pakistan and West Asian region. We are working hard for the promotion of Youth Baseball and believe that in result, in 4 – 5 years, our players will play in MLB. But if we have sponsors (Baseball Equipment, Baseball Field, Coaching Staff) the result will come in 1 – 2 years.
TSO : In 2017, the MLB announced it would support baseball in Pakistan, by training coaches and inviting young Pakistani players to train in the USA. The organisation rolled out a similar program in India. How has this worked so far, in order to get a baseball culture growing in Pakistan?
SFAS : We are waiting for their support and hope it will start soon. Their support will be fruitful for baseball culture growing in Pakistan.
TSO : Aside of the MLB, does the Pakistan Baseball Federation hold links with other federations, in Asia, Europe or elsewhere, to help develop its baseball program?
SFAS : We have strong links with Asian countries and we are also in touch with other federations in the world. Due to our good links, Japanese, Korean and US Baseball coaches visited Pakistan for short times to help us in coaching our players.
In 2017, the Pakistan Baseball Federation organized an IOC Olympic Solidarity Coaching Course in Pakistan under the supervision of a US Baseball Coach Mr. George Santiago.
TSO : In terms of Competitions, Pakistan had a mixed year with a final victory in the West Asian Cup, but a last place in the Asian Championships a few months later. What do you need to be able to rival with other emerging baseball nations, such as China or the Philippines?
SFAS : Due to National Games in Pakistan, most of our top and senior players were participating in this mega sports event of Pakistan.
Due to this, the Pakistan Baseball Federation had to send a C team to the 2019 Asian Championships in Chinese Taipei which included College level players.
TSO : I was talking about Cricket earlier. Is the fact Pakistan is a leading nation of Cricket a boost or a hindrance for Pakistani baseball? Do you find there is an easy path between both sports, with players making the transition easily from one to the other?
SFAS : Cricket is a big hindrance for the development of Baseball in Pakistan, because all the sponsor and media in Pakistan is available for cricket. Most of the biggest sponsors in Pakistan only sponsor cricket.
Mostly cricketers are playing County Cricket in England and Australia and other leagues and earn a huge amount. This is a big attraction for the players.
We are working hard for the promotion of Baseball.
TSO : Pakistan also has a female national team, which took part in the Asian Championship this year, how developed is women’s baseball in Pakistan nowadays?
SFAS : Pakistan Federation Baseball is also working for the promotion of Women Baseball in Pakistan for the last 15 years. Pakistan Women’s Baseball Team has participated in the WBSC Women’s Baseball World Cup 2016 in Korea.
Malaysia Women’s Baseball Team will be coming to Pakistan to play Baseball Matches with Pakistan Women’s Baseball Team in April 2020. This will also fruitful for the promotion of Women’s Baseball in Pakistan.
TSO : Additionally, the Federation has joined the Baseball 5 program last year. Baseball 5 is seen as the “universal” approach to baseball and has been picked up by the Olympic movement. Do you see it as vector of development for baseball as a mass-practiced sport, in Pakistan and all over the world?
SFAS : Baseball5 is very easy to play and don’t need any field or equipment. This new style of game will be helpful for the development of baseball in Pakistan, and all over the world.
TSO : Finally, to the World Baseball Classic Qualifier : both France and Pakistan will be outsiders in this tournament. What do you think of the group, and what are the objectives for Pakistan in this tournament?
SFAS : In the World Baseball Classic Qualifier, the other teams all have better a ranking than Pakistan, and they have professional coaches and players who play in MLB, AAA and Minor Leagues, and mostly are playing in USA or getting trained in USA. So they have more opportunities than our players.
Our main objective is to let them know we are playing with them without having Baseball Fields, Baseball Equipment, Professional Players and Professional Coaches. Just imagine, if we had all the above, what we could do on the field.
TSO : What do you think about the French national team, and what do you make of MLB legend Bruce Bochy taking over as Manager for France?
SFAS : The French Team has been improving over the last 10 years, and they have a good ranking in the world. I feel that they are on the right way to become one of the best teams in the world in the future.
We love to play against MLB legend Bruce Bochy’s team and we hope that our young players will get a lot of experience and we have a good game with them.
TSO : Once again thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. All the best to you and good luck to the Pakistan National Team in the WBC Qualifier!