Neeraj Chopra vs Arshad Nadeem: An India-Pak rivalry minus the toxicity

As Neeraj Chopra and Arshad Nadeem made track and field history by finishing one-two in the javelin throw at the World Championship, a new India-Pakistan sporting rivalry was born that lacks the edge of a cricket game between the two neighbours. The morning the video of Chopra calling out his long-time friend from across the border Nadeem for a celebratory frame at the arena where they left the rest of the world behind went viral, the usual toxicity that follows a close cricket encounter between India and Pakistan was missing.

Nadeem’s coach and Pakistan’s five-time national javelin throw champion Syed Hussain Bukhari spoke about the power-shift in the sport with the emergence of the sub-continent as the new hub of world-class javelin throwers. India’s Kishore Jena finished fifth, followed by DP Manu.

“India has three throwers but javelin throw is also picking up in Pakistan. Recently, Muhammad Yasir won a bronze medal at the Asian Athletics Championships. We are also leaving no stone unturned in unearthing the next Nadeem. Both Chopra and Nadeem are role models. Every second athlete wants to be a javelin thrower. Both countries are now working hard to become a force in javelin and in Budapest we saw the result,” Bukhari says.

It’s not that the traditionally powerhouse nations drew a blank, but they were certainly overshadowed by the three Indians and one Pakistani athlete in the top six. Third on the podium was Jakub Vadlejch from the Czech Republic, the birthplace of world record holder Jan Zelezny. In fourth place was Julian Webber of Germany, a strong nation in the event.

Chopra was pleased with the growth of the sport in the region.

“I felt good that Arshad threw well. We spoke and discussed how both our countries are growing now. Earlier there were European athletes but now we have reached their level,” Chopra said.

Freedom Sale

Nadeem shares a special bond with the Indian champion as was evident from the picture of Chopra and his coaches that he posted on social media.

Muhammad Ashraf, Nadeem’s father, watched Chopra and Nadeem fight for the biggest prize from Mian Channu in Khanewal district of Pakistan. “The boy from India has won the gold. Arshad often talks about him whenever he is at home. Our whole village was watching Arshad compete last night. Arshad has made the village, as well as the whole of Pakistan and the Asian continent proud.”

Nadeem spoke about mutual respect between him and Chopra. “Neeraj and I have a very healthy competition and we respect each other a lot. There is no Pakistan-India rivalry in a bad way. When we talk, we are just happy that both of us have come to the fore in a competition usually dominated by Europeans,” Nadeem was quoted as saying by PTI.

Can’t escape the hype

Chopra believes ‘India versus Pakistan’ will be blown up even more during the Asian Games. “I feel at the Asian Games there will be more talk about India versus Pakistan, but I am just going to stay relaxed and healthy.”

Before the final, Chopra chanced upon the India-Pak hype around him and Nadeem. “I don’t use my mobile much before competition but today I looked at it and the first thing was India versus Pakistan. But if you see, European athletes are very dangerous and at any time they can produce a big throw. Not just Arshad, there is Jakub and Julian Webber. So till the last throw, you have to keep thinking about other throwers. But the thing is there will be India vs Pakistan comparisons back home,” Chopra said.

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Chopra versus Nadeem dates back to the South Asian Games in 2016. A young Neeraj equalled the national record to win gold, Nadeem took the bronze. After the 2021 Olympics, when Nadeem was trolled for taking Chopra’s javelin, the Indian star was upset and posted a video message asking people not to push their propaganda because the Pakistani had done nothing wrong as the rules allowed for it. Yasir, an upcoming thrower from Pakistan told Geo TV that Chopra had spoken to him over phone after he won bronze last month.

Like Chopra in India, Nadeem’s popularity has rivalled cricketers in Pakistan. Two fast bowling stars Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf posted congratulatory messages. Nadeem played cricket before Bukhari, the national javelin coach, took him under his wings.

Bukhari is beaming because the sport he loves is being recognised. “Both countries are happy about the success of Chopra and Nadeem. Javelin is bringing joy to the people and that is wonderful to see.”

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