KARACHI: The weather was perfect for the city’s mega event. A cool breeze was blowing and the sun was playing hide and seek in the thin layers of cloud. Thousands of men, women, boys and girls had poured onto the road in front of the DA Sports Club, better known as Moin Khan Academy, ready to start a marathon.
It looked like a grand festive occasion. Bunches of the white and green balloons hung at vantage points reflected the colours of the Pakistan flag. The multinational sponsors of the gala had set up around 20 stalls on the academy premises and outside it. Staffers at the stalls gave away bottles of mineral water and packets of milk to whoever came near them. The coffee stall was, however, non-functional. The staff there, tinkering with the wires, said the heating system had developed some fault and they were trying to fix it.
The participants in what has now become an annual race of its kind — organised for a second time — included top diplomats based in the city, particularly German, Turkish and British. In fact the British deputy high commissioner reportedly covered the full length of the race.
People not only from across the city but also beyond it had arrived there. Daniel Timothy, a 68-year-old clergyman based in Badin, was probably the senior most of the runners, and hence the most inspiring figure. The veteran sports enthusiast, originally from New Zealand, has been living in Pakistan for the last 26 years.
Karachi is one of the safest cities of the world now, says Murad
“This is a well-organised event. I’ve enjoyed it very much. Pakistan is a great country. People here are very hospitable and loving. This marathon is projecting a soft image of Pakistan abroad,” he said as he ran on and shouted “Pakistan Zindabad”. He covered the 10-kilometre-long distance in 56 minutes, which was something remarkable for a person of his age.
Well-known cricketer and commentator Sikandar Bakht, also known as Sikku Bhai, ran the same distance in much longer time than his New Zealand counterpart. He, however, proudly showed me his mobile phone which had recorded the time as one hour, 27 minutes and as many seconds. Covering the complete span was, however, an achievement for the 62-year-old man.
Sikandar also appreciated the arrangements but had a couple of suggestions to make. “The organisers should have closed the track for outside vehicles till 2pm. Residents in their cars were moving about as the participants ran, which was very annoying. Besides, the professional runners should have been allowed to run first and the amateur ones after them.”
Men and women had different tracks to run on. Whereas the males had to cover 10 kilometres, the target for females was 6.6km. Many schoolchildren also ran for joy alongside their elders.
There were categories such as uder-19, over-20, over-30, the category for people from 40 to 50 and there were the seniors.
Most of the professional runners were from Pakistan Navy, who won all the three top positions in their relevant category.
Both male and female winners in their separate categories were given cash prizes also.
Special persons also did not want to be left behind. A young student, Affan, took part in the race on wheelchair.
There were also those who had not run the full length and joined the race midway. Apparently they included the latecomers and those who were aware of their limitations.
Karachi, safest city
Later speaking at the prize distribution ceremony, a happy Syed Murad Ali Shah, the chief minister of Sindh, said: “Karachi, which was one of the seven most dangerous cities till a few years ago, has now become one of the safest cities of the world.”
To support his assertion, he cited the cricketing events that have recently taken place in the city safely. “The opening ceremony of the PSL (Pakistan Super League) will also be held in Karachi, to be followed by one such event in Lahore,” the Sindh chief minister stated.
He acknowledged the existence of growing street crime in the city and said his government was focusing on the malaise to treat it effectively. He said he hoped street crime in the city would also be “eliminated soon”.
The chief minister praised Commissioner of Karachi Iftikhar Shallwani for organising the Second Commissioner Karachi Marathon. He appreciated the sponsors also. “The special persons deserve special appreciation for taking part in the race,” he said after giving away awards and shields.
The commissioner said the last year some 3,000 people had taken part in the marathon, but this year around 6,000 participants had registered themselves.
“Whoever is the commissioner next year, I hope this event will be held in a similar befitting manner, and it will be organised better still,” Mr Shallwani said.
Elaborate security arrangements were in place. The numerous police and Rangers personnel were aided by the traffic police to make the event memorable.
During the ceremony, silence was observed for a minute to express grief over the blast in Quetta and the raging fires in the forests of Australia.