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World records no joke to frustrated Pakistanis

The Washington Post

One young contender created the world’s largest sequin mosaic using 325,000 of the sparkly discs.

Two other youths achieved 123 consecutive badminton passes in one minute. And 1,450 participants broke the record for the most people arm wrestling.

Such are the skills that Guinness World Records are made of in Pakistan, where thousands of young people are groomed to establish their unique feats for posterity.

Last week, the contestants came together for the annual Punjab Youth Festival to show their stuff — many in athletics, but others in downright quirky displays, including one young boy who achieved fame by kicking 50 coconuts from on top of the heads of a row of people.

It seems Pakistan has become a world record-creating machine, with the coordinated effort reaping an impressive 23 world records, event organizers boasted.

The push for inclusion of Pakistanis in the venerable Guinness World Records entries (which began in book form in 1955) stems in part from festival organizers’ desire to boost the image of a country often associated with militancy, religious strife and economic decline.

There is a patriotic element, as well: Last October, for instance, 42,813 Pakistanis got together in a Lahore hockey stadium to belt out the national anthem and create yet another world record for the most people singing their country’s anthem.

Days later, another 24,200 people held green and white boxes — the colors of the national flag of Pakistan — to set the world record for creating the largest human flag.

Although some of the records might seem amusing to others — coconut kicking champ Mohammad Rashid of Karachi last week claimed his fourth world record by breaking 34 pine boards in 32 seconds with his head — the competitions were no laughing matter to participants.

Usman Anwar, director of the Punjab Youth Festival, explained that the kids have been training for eight months.

“We started at the neighborhood and village level so that children could come out and participate,” said Anwar. “Our main objective was to inculcate interest for sports in the public.”

Young people from over 55,000 neighborhood and village councils vied for a chance to compete in the games. “We were able to select the best of the best to train for the world records,” said Anwar.

Because of terrorism, political upheaval and widespread unemployment, many young people appear to have little hope for the future, says Hafeez Rehman, a professor in the anthropology department at Quaid-i-Azam University in the capital, Islamabad.

Sports competitions, Rehman said, create an opportunity for youth to excel personally and also to improve Pakistan’s image.

“We have energetic youth. Pakistan has more than 55 million young people. It becomes an asset for the country,” he added.

The festival itself has become part of the record-setting mania.

It was recognized for having more participants — 3.3 million, most of whom registered online, according to Anwar — constituting a world record for sporting events.