KARACHI: Pakistan overwhelmed athlete Naseem Hameed with a hero’s welcome Thursday after she became South Asia’s fastest woman by winning the 100-metre race in the regional games in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The 22-year-old clocked 11.81 seconds to clinch gold medal in the race in the South Asian Federation (SAF) Games Sunday, becoming Pakistan’s first female athlete to win the sprint in the competition’s 26-year history.
Naseem was mobbed by hundreds of fans and relatives at Karachi airport, then whisked to a formal reception laid on by the southern province of Sindh.
Sindh governor Ishraul Ibaad announced that Naseem would be receive one million rupees from President Pakistan Asif Zardari and half a million rupees from his office.
“You have made the nation proud,” said Ibaad. “We are very happy and honoured by your tremendous win and hope that you will not sit on this laurel and win more medals at higher level like Olympics.”
Other cash prizes came flooding in – 500,000 rupees from Pakistan’s sports ministry, 200,000 rupees from Karachi Mayor Mustafa Kamal and 100,000 rupees from the Pakistan Athletics Federation.
Pakistani lawmakers demanded a full-time job and house for Naseem, who comes from Karachi’s impoverished slum area of Korangi.
The athlete said she was elated by the reception.
“I am on cloud nine,” Naseem told reporters at the airport. “I had forgotten the world for six months and trained really very, very hard under my coach Maqsood Ahmed to achieve this.”
Pakistan’s Shabana Akhtar won two gold medals for long jump in the 1993 and 1995 SAF Games.
Naseem said the win has encouraged her to go onto greater heights.
“It is a great moment for me to have brought glory to the country in my event since our athletics standards have been poor of late.
“And I will do my best to compete and win at higher levels like the Commonwealth Games and Olympics,” she vowed.
Pakistan’s Sports Minister Ijaz Jakharani pledged full support.
“These athletes are our assets and we will send them to the Commonwealth Games as well as the Olympics in the future,” Jakharani said Wednesday.
Marvi Memon, a member of Pakistan’s national assembly, demanded special funds for female athletes.
“Naseem’s victory is superb and to achieve more of this we must establish a specific fund to support female sports in the country, particularly to encourage those from poor families,” Memon said on Wednesday.