“You know there is never a break for me, I have actually even trained on the day of my wedding,” Pakistan’s most coveted weightlifter Muhammad Nooh Dastagir Butt had gushed about first, getting married to the love of his life and second for making sure that he is leaving no stone unturned to fulfil the dream of qualifying for the 2024 Olympics, for making sure he makes Pakistan proud again.
But that was the conversation on the last day of December 2022. Nooh has been thrilled with the year that was, he was talking about how so many of his dreams come true.
His biggest fight was to make a comeback, and he did, with the history-making performance at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham where he lifted 405 kilogrammes with 175 in snatch and 232 in clean and jerk, creating Commonwealth Games records in the overall total of the +109kg category, in the best total in snatch and the best total in clean and jerk.
“I won that gold medal and that was the best moment of my life and I was standing on the podium, watching the flag of my country raised there and the national anthem play, I just want to make my country prouder again,” Nooh had told The Express Tribune at the turn of the year, but little did he know that the Pakistan Weightlifting Federation which had been marred with the scandal on doping will make every move to stop him from competing in the international; events in 2023, a crucial year to earn Pakistan a spot in the 2024 Olympics.
Nooh had been targeting the Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships in India, World Championships, and the Asian Games in China, he had been making sure he trained every day, chasing the dream.
Nooh’s journey has not just his alone, it had been of his family too, his father, Ghulam Dastgir who himself had been an international weightlifter.
Nooh got injured in the last few years, but he was targeting the Commonwealth Games last year to assure his name enlists among the elite athletes in the world.
Prior to 20202 Commonwealth Games too he had won multiple medals for the country including 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medal, medals in Commonwealth Championships too and being among the top junior weightlifter in Asia.
“I had this thing promised from my father that if we won the gold medal then I can get married, and well, I think it only made sense that that happened soon,” Nooh had said as he got married in a low-key ceremony to his wife who he calls his rock and a strong woman that keeps him ambitious and discipline to carry on his purpose of making the country proud.
“We got married, well, not a lot of people know but it was in December,” said Nooh, however, the PWLF had played the worst role, first pulling the trials early for the Asian games that are chalked to take place in September, not informing Nooh in the timely manner and making it impossible for the 24-year-old to be a part of it or to even plan his participation as he had only gotten married less than two weeks ago.
While the federations around the world make matters easy for their top athletes and work towards providing the most conducive conditions for elite athletes to prepare for competitions, in Pakistan the national federations compete against their own athletes.
The PWLF vice-president Amjid Amin Butt, whose sons had also been under the violation of doping in 2021, says that nothing can be done for Nooh as the preliminary list of the players to compete at the Asian Games have been submitted to the international bodies and the last date of it was January 15.
He claims that Nooh was politically involved not recognising the PWLF-body but supporting the Pakistan sports board that had suspended PWLF in August 2022 on the charge of corruption and maladministration.
The PWLF so far is recognised by the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) and the International Weightlifting Federation, but the PSB that comes under the supervision of the Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination has suspended it, therefore there are no government grants for them, neither the facilities nor the status with the government.
The rift between the PSB, POA, undercurrents of the disapproval at times, and then the issues with national sports federation have been going on for a decade now, but it is unacceptable to sacrifice the talent and the high-achieving icons like Nooh as the alter of power politics.
Amjad told The Express Tribune that he has written correspondence with Nooh, but since Nooh does not recognise them, the body has also returned the International Olympics Committee’s Scholarship stipend that Nooh earned.
Not only did the federation stopped Nooh from participating in the Asian Games now, but there is also no hope for the other events, whereas the scholarships that were given to high-achieving athletes who can win Pakistan medals at the Olympics were meant for the financial assistance so that they can prepare well for the competitions.
However, it feels like the PWLF has punished Nooh for being truthful honest and keeping his head up high instead of just praising the officials who are used to perks and authority in their sports bodies.
It is at the end of the day egos over Pakistan’s best interest and players’ welfare and well-being.
The irony becomes richer when one digs into the history of the PWLF officials and their recent role in the doping scandal which even swallowed the Tokyo Olympics finalist Talha Talib, who got the four-year ban for testing positive after the International Testing Agency’s raid in Pakistan back in 2021.
“We told Nooh to come pick his cheque from us, but he never came to us, so we returned it to the POA,” said Amjad.
When asked that it is heart-breaking to learn that the country’s premier athlete is out of the running for the top events, he said that the federation is upset too, but Nooh has not responded to them.
“Even if he goes to the Asian games, he will be among the bottom, like on 20, 22nd position on or. You see the last date to send the entries was January 15, but before that it was December 30, you can check it with international bodies too, if you want. Now we cannot add Noo’s name, we have sent the preliminary list, we can subtract a name if the weightlifter is not ready to compete, but we cannot add another name in it,” said Amjad.
Ajad’s statements come as a surprise as Nooh, since The Express Tribune has been documenting his journey for year and did so after the Commonwealth Games too, can show that Nooh had not support the ad-hoc PSB-run faction of PWLF, the youngster has also not been involved in politics besides appreciating the PSB once during the Commonwealth Games celebration, and he has been nothing but dedicated to training.
Nooh was also overlooked by the PWLF when it came to the Asian weightlifting championships that took place during October in Manama where the federation sent three weightlifters including Furqan Anwar in 81 kg category, Usman Rathor in 109 kg event, and Abdullah Butt in Nooh’s +109kg category.
Abdullah lifter 145 in snatch and 180 in clean and jerk and totalled 325 kg in Manama.
Abdullah had lost to Nooh several times in the local events too and at the trials too that PWLF claims were legitimate there must not have been much improvement on the 405kg weight that Nooh still holds the record of.
“I vehemently disagree with what the federation is saying, I have never been a part of the politics, I just want them to present the proof, please, present it where I have said something against them, where I was seen with the ad-hoc federation, where I have done anything wrong, if they can then I will apologise, but they have nothing against me.
“The trials they say were held, how can any federation have trials eight months before an event, Asian games are in September, and I had just gotten married, I was not even informed properly.
“Then there comes the scholarship money, I have written to the federation and to the POA several times to several officials that I should get the copy of the documents which I signed, which they signed, I must know the terms and conditions if I am receiving the money, I will take the money and the PWLF and POA officials should meet me at the Pakistan Olympic House, I will take the money from there, but my pleas and requests have not been entertained even,” explained Nooh,
In an email that Nooh sent last year, seen by The Express Tribune, Nooh has written that he recognises the PWLF headed by Hafiz Imran Butt, he is registered with it, Nooh acknowledged that he follows the federation that is affiliated with the POA only.
Nooh wrote to POA and PWLF about the IOC scholarship stipend is first instalment. The Olympic scholarship began on January 1, 2022, and were be divided into terms running for a four-month period each until August 31, 2024. Every athlete was to be awarded a 650 US dollars per month scholarship for preparation of the Summer Olympic Games Paris 2024.
The email also states that the document signed by Nooh and the PWLF and POA exists, and he just wants to get the copy of the signed documents which he was promised to receive but never did despite signing the contract.
“The bottom line is how can I take money from any place unless I don’t have the copies of the relevant documents and unless I understand the terms and conditions completely, it is my duty to be responsible, so I know I have conducted myself with dignity, but I don’t know why I am being treated this way,’ said Nooh.
Meanwhile the POA secretary Khalid Mehmood, who was also sent the letter/email for the request of the copy for the IOC scholarship documents and was kept in the loop by Nooh, said that the POA will adhere to the PWLF’s stance as Nooh had gotten involved in the politics, which still is a false claim.
“We have returned the money that Nooh had received as the scholarship from the IOC, we sent the cheque to the PWLF, but since they said that Nooh did not take it from them, they returned it to us, and so we returned it to the IOC. Also, we recognise the athletes who are recognised by our affiliated federations, except for those athletes who belong to the federations that are suspended by the POA we deal with the players from federations, in Nooh’s case we cannot help much, even though Nooh is like my son,” said Mehmood.
When asked if POA can pull their weight to resolve the issue between the PWLF and Nooh, Mehmood said that he and the POA President Lieutenant-General (retired) Syed Arif Hasan have tried.
But Mehmood’s explanation too feels like an excuse and not all legitimate because at the end of the day Nooh is an athlete that has proven to be fair, he is clean, and has proven his mettle at the international stage as well.
Stopping Nooh from competing at the events or not making exception or even trying to fix the mess will be criminal negligence, it will only reaffirm the notion that in Pakistan honesty and excellence are not valued or cultivated.
Nooh said that he had met the POA President at a local wrestling event where he assured that he is not a part of any political faction and he is only interested in sports, he said that he requested the President to resolve the matter as well, but till date he is still waiting for the POA to get back to him.
Importance of strong women
One of the most impressive things about Nooh has been his character, and it feels like a violation from the federation and POA as well.
Observing Nooh since he was a preteen, it has been a privilege to see him grow up to be an individual who is conscientious, honest, and gentle all at the same time, while persevering against the odds.
Infact, Nooh can be seen as some who has been brought right, and the credit goes to his parents, and his family.
One of the things he said back in December was how happy he was to have met his wife few years ago, who is older than him, she has inspired him to be strong at the time of adversity and keeps him on the right path.
“My wife is a strong woman, she works too, and she is not your typical women, she is rough and tough and says it like it is without sugar coating anything, she is inspirational to me. When I won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games too I rang her immediately, I rang her because she had stuck with me in my worst times too, when I was injured and no one even thought about me, so that mattered, and I am just in awe of the fact that she is an independent girl who keeps me grounded and yet inspires me to do better,” said Nooh.
Waiting for justice
Now that the grim times are following Nooh, with him against the odd, Nooh feels he can make it too, and win the medals still, if only justice can prevail.
“I can still compete, you know, we have six to seven months, there is Commonwealth Championship, there is World Championship, there are Asian games, if they let me, I can compete.
“Right now, I feel unstable, I feel lost, do I carry on training, or will all my arduous work go to waste, what do I do? I want to compete for Pakistan, I am just hoping that they let me, if they can just let me, I am ready for all the hard work and training and winning the medals too,” said Nooh.