Pakistan’s Diamond Jubilee Sports Festival (DJSF) recently reached its apex with an iconic National Games at the Jinnah Complex in Islamabad. Over 1,300 athletes from eight regions in the country competed for medals in 17 different sports, cheered on and supported by thousands more.

Events at the National Games ranged from perennial favourites cricket and football, to taekwondo and basketball, which were included for the first time in a Jamati Games in Pakistan.

Sport and wellbeing have long played an important role among the Jamat of Pakistan, with the country capturing second spot in the medals table at the international Jubilee Games held in Dubai in 2016. DJSF, spread over many months, has also encompassed a marathon, a polo competition, and a cycling rally. The qualifying rounds began at Jamatkhana level and progressed to local and regional levels, with nearly 50,000 athletes participating, and watched by a total of over 160,000 spectators. The National Games featured the top 1,300 athletes from all over Pakistan, competing for medals and distinction for their regions.

The opening ceremony of the National Games featured the first Ismaili Olympian, Ahmed Ali Khan, as torch bearer. A boxer originally from Hunza, Ahmed represented Pakistan at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

The opening ceremony also featured chief guests Jahangir Khan and Nazir Sabir. Nazir, also an Ismaili, is an accomplished mountaineer. He is the first Pakistani to have climbed Mount Everest and has also climbed four of the five 8,000 m peaks in Pakistan, including the world's second highest mountain K2 in 1981.

Jahangir Khan is an iconic sportsman, considered the best squash player the world has ever seen. He won the Squash World Open six times and the British Open a record 10 times. From 1981 to 1986, he was unbeaten in competitive play. Speaking at the opening ceremony of the DJSF National Games, he advised participating athletes that there are no shortcuts to sporting success and that dedication is essential.

All regions of the country were well represented at the event. Pakistan’s Jubilee Games cricket team was principally from Karachi but the hard-fought cricket competition at the National Games saw Lower Chitral and Upper Chitral competing in the final.

AKYSB Chairman Shamez Mukhi commented,“Neither region had previously made any impact at the National level and it was fantastic to see new talent coming to the fore. We saw a similar situation in football, again one of our most popular sports. Ishkoman Puniyal won the gold medal, which was an eye-opener for many people. We look forward to seeing more of this new talent, both at the National and International level."

Discovering and encouraging new talent was something of a theme for DJSF. Taekwondo and swimming were two of the sports introduced for the first time at a national level.

“It has been amazing to see so many young competitors coming forth in the new sports introduced this time. We were unable to field a swimming team at the Jubilee Games as we had no competitors but DJSF has helped us identify swimming talent in the Jamat. Taekwondo has been another revelation, particularly in terms of the large number of young women competing,” Mukhi said.

Twenty-four men and 15 women participated in four categories offered in this event. The competition had the feel of an international event with the Pakistan Taekwondo Federation facilitating, providing international standard refereeing and an electronic scoring system, which made it possible to deliver a high-quality, exhilarating competition. Hunza region took the honours with five gold medals while the Central, Ishkoman Puniyal, and Gilgit regions took one gold each.

While the National Games were an opportunity for the Jamat’s elite athletes to shine, inclusiveness has been a major theme of DJSF. The Aga Khan Health Board and Social Welfare Board have collaborated with AKYSB to encourage more Jamati participation in sports at all age levels. All the qualifying rounds along with the National Games also featured inclusive events: a walk for seniors and races for the differently abled.

The DJSF National Games were a fitting finale to a sporting festival that has engaged large numbers of Jamati members all over Pakistan. An event of this magnitude would not have been possible without legions of volunteers, from the grass-roots up.

Mr. Hafiz Sherali, President of the Ismaili National Council for Pakistan, noted how DJSF was an opportunity for Ismailis from all over Pakistan to come together in an atmosphere of cooperation and healthy competition.

“Mawlana Hazar Imam has often emphasised the importance of collaborating across diverse backgrounds and cultures. DJSF brought together Jamati members from eight regions and offered a forum for them to engage with each other, exchange ideas, forge friendships, and share their various cultures. It was a Diamond Jubilee event that enabled the sharing of best practice and celebrated diversity and our commonality. We are proud to help young Ismailis in the pursuit of excellence and to create opportunities for collaboration and communication that will build strong connections across the Jamat for years to come.”