Sitting behind his office desk, Farooq Saeed, 43, seems fairly docile. He’s courteous and proffers masala tea.
But if you have a quick look through some of his photos of him in action in a long career in the top league of hockey and cricket in the city it’s a whole different ballgame.
There’s one photograph of Saeed practically sitting on an unfortunate opposition player during a hockey game, and you just don’t want to get in the way of that stick. Saeed was Hong Kong’s hockey captain for 14 years and also represented Hong Kong in cricket. He represented the city in Asia Cups and Asian Games. He’s been an inspiration to countless young sportsmen and to the ethnic minority kids who make up most of the teams.
But his is not an easy story of luxury kit, brandname sports shoes and air conditioned training. Saeed, who came to Hong Kong as a boy with his family from Pakistan, returned to his home country to study commerce and train in the sports he loves.
“Sometimes I would have to cycle to the sports grounds in 40-degree heat at three in the afternoon,” he says. “I didn’t have the latest Nike trainers that I could change every three months. I used to get up before dawn to make my sports drinks with sugar and salt. There was no Pocari Sweat.”
Saeed remembers spending the summer of 1984 in Pakistan. His grandfather would wake him at three or four in the morning to watch the hockey at the Los Angeles Olympics.
He dedication saw him picked for the teams at college and university, plus the under 19s Pakistani team. Saeed doesn’t class himself as a top-rank player, attributing his success to training.
It’s something that concerns him about cricket and hockey in Hong Kong. Unless there is funding to allow players to go professional, they are never going to be good enough to join national teams elsewhere. Because he worked in his father’s textile business, Saeed was able to take time off for tournaments, but other players aren’t that lucky, he says.
When Saeed returned to Hong Kong, he saw a golden sporting opportunity. “I was never going to get a chance in the national team in Pakistan, they were too good.”
But with the Hong Kong team he attended four Asian Games, three Asia Cups and two East Asian Games, playing hockey and cricket.
“I played in all international games for Hong Kong between 1990 until 2007 and then played again in 2009 in the East Asian Games held in Hong Kong and won a bronze medal,” he says. “It was the highlight of my career, to win a bronze medal on home soil.”
At the 1998 Asian Games, Saeed had the chance to play Pakistan. “We lost, but I really enjoyed it.”
Saeed is one of only very few sportspeople who have represented Hong Kong in more than one sport. He still plays in some of the top teams in Hong Kong and is the captain of the Kowloon Cricket Club Tartars team.
Saeed was also picked as one of the sportspeople to carry the Olympic torch in 2008 and ran with the torch through Sha Tin.
Sport has given him much fulfilment, and he feels Hong Kong’s children need to get outside more.
“In Hong Kong, because it is a very small place, there isn’t the space that’s available in Australia or Pakistan,” he says. “But kids here need to play sport. It’s good for your health and helps you mentally.
“What I see here is all the kids on their computers. Outside sports are essential to get them away from their phones and iPads.”