Three young men from Pakistan’s remote Naltar Valley are competing in a qualifier for the 2014 Winter Olympics thanks to the country’s air force, which extended its training to civilians in 1990 and is now benefiting from additional funding recently approved by the government. The air force runs a ski school that offers full scholarships to young people who seek to compete internationally, and also provides free lessons to area children ages 10 and up. Later this month, four boys will participate in the Asian Children Skiing Competition, which will be held in Tajikistan.
What’s the Big Idea?
In 2010, scholarship recipient Muhammad Abbas became the first Pakistani athlete to attend a Winter Olympics, competing in the giant slalom event. Since then, interest in the sport has swelled, especially among girls, who currently represent one third of participating students despite resistance from some quarters. The ski school also provides work to about 30 men, and there are plans to expand the center into a commercial resort. Defense analyst Ayesha Siddiqa says the success of the air force’s continued patronage represents a bit of “good PR” at a time when war and terrorism reports dominate the media.