Snooker: Pakistan’s modest world champion

Snooker: Pakistan’s modest world champion

FAISALABAD, Pakistan - Rising sports stars regularly spout the cliche about not letting success change them, but in the case of Mohammad Asif, Pakistan's sole current world champion, it seems to be true.

The 31-year-old was given a hero's welcome when he returned to Pakistan after winning the amateur world snooker championship a year ago, feted by politicians and media alike.

He still lives in the same modest house in a nondescript corner of Faisalabad, an industrial city in Punjab province, and still practises at the same grubby basement club.

He says he has seen nothing of the US$100,000 (S$125,000) reward promised him by the government for his win, but his success has made him a superstar in the city once known as the "Manchester of Pakistan" for its countless cotton mills.

"Wherever I go, thanks be to God, I get special love from the people, everybody is caring and praying for me," he told AFP.

"Now everyone in the city recognises me, which gives me pleasure."

The biggest change for Asif has been his wheels. Gone is his rickety old motorbike, replaced by a gleaming black Toyota Corolla emblazoned with "M. Asif - World Champion" - a gift from Pakistan's richest man, property tycoon Malik Riaz.

Asif is only the second Pakistani to win the world title, after Mohammed Yousuf, nearly 20 years ago, but his campaign nearly ended before it began.

A shortage of funds meant the Pakistan Billiards and Snooker Federation (PBSF) had practically given up hope of sending players to last year's championship in Bulgaria until a slew of personal donations allowed Asif to board the plane.

The shy, softly spoken Asif repaid their generosity with a fairytale win, beating England's Gary Wilson 10-8 in the final.

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