BENGALURU: Just 45 days before the Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, Fouaad Mirza and other equestrian athletes were left in the dark about their future. The Equestrian Federation of India (EFI) decided to void the entire selection process and not send a team. Had the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and Embassy International Riding School chairman and MD, Jitu Virwani, not intervened, Fouaad would have remained unrecognised.
The city youngster, astride Seigneur Medicott, won an individual silver medal in the event, ending a 36-year drought in winning an individual medal at the Asiad. Japan’s Yoshiaki Oiwa finished ahead of him, after Fouaad had conceded a penalty. He also won a team silver medal in the same event, partnering with Rakesh Kumar, Ashish Malik, Jitender Singh.
Fouaad, however, was not deterred. “It was a small hiccup. I would have given my best no matter what political games were played behind the curtains. I didn’t let it affect me. But yes, it’s something no athlete should go through before a major event,” Fouaad said, adding, “I lso need to thank Jitu sir. Without his support, it would have been impossible for me to participate.”
The last time India won an individual medal in the sport was back in 1982, when Delhi hosted the games. Since then, India has won five bronze medals in team events, but an individual medal was hard to come by.For Fouaad, the journey began when he was just five years old. And gradually, the bond between him and his horses grew strong. During events, he, unlike other riders, speaks to the animal, who according to Fouaad, are the real winners.
This love for animals is in his blood. His ancestor, Aga Ali Asker, an Iranian trader, came to India and settled here in 1824, and had brought horses with him. Another ancestor, Sir Mirza Ismail, the then-Dewan of Mysore, was also fond of horses. Fouaad’s father Hasneyn Mirza is a renowned equine vet.“My family has dealt with horses for a very long time. They were always around and riding them and being around them made me happy. I believe it’s very important to have a connection with the horse, because that's what makes a champion,” Fouaad explains.
Amid all the celebrations, Fouaad still rues missing the opportunity to win a gold medal. However, the 26-year-old, who trains under former world champion Bettina Hoy in Germany, has already set his eyes on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. “Missing the gold medal still hurts, but it’s time to focus on qualifying for the Olympics. It’s a four-star event. Preparation for that is challenging for both the horse and the rider. So starting right away is very important,” Fouaad signs off.