LAHORE: Though the country failed to perform well at the South Asian Games, mainly due to the four-year long tussle between two groups in the Pakistan Olympic Association, a complete mismanagement in sending the contingent to Shillong and Guwahati also affected the athletes’ performance, it has emerged.

Pakistan finished a poor third (106 medals, 12 gold, 37 silver, 57 bronze) on the medals table at the South Asian Games behind toppers India (380, 188 gold, 90 silver, 30 bronze) and Sri Lanka (186, 25 gold, 63 silver, 98 bronze).

Some athletes and coaches who returned home were not happy over the way the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) sent them to India for the regional extravaganza.

“We received the tickets of a foreign airline, which took almost 84 hours to reach Guwahati or Shillong and just one day later there was the opening ceremony of the games,” some players based in Lahore told Dawn.

“The airline first took us to Doha where we had to remain at the airport for 12 hours and from there we were brought to Kolkata, where we stayed for 12 to 16 hours,” they stated.

It all caused fatigue to the athletes which badly affected their fitness during this unnecessary long and painful journey, they further said.

“More interestingly, the PSB officials decided for themselves a logical route for the same destination. They went to Amritsar via Wagah Border. From Amritsar they went to New Delhi from where a direct flight took them to Shillong or Guwahati easily,” they said.

Moreover, the players said, as the wrestlers and weightlifters had to take extra food to maintain their strength in the 84-hour journey to the host Indian cities, no special arrangements were made in this regard by the authorities concerned.

“Had gold medallist weightlifter Mohammad Nooh Dastagir’s father not arranged special meal for his son and for other weightlifters, the Pakistani weightlifters might not have been able to even stand in the competition,” the players further disclosed.

“When Nooh’s father came to know that the weightlifters have to spend many hours at the airport he asked those responsible whether they had made any special food arrangements for the athletes, particularly for the weightlifters and wrestlers, the reply was negative. He was told that they [weightlifters and wrestlers] will have to depend on the same meal, which the airline offered during the flight,” the players said.

“Upon knowing this, Nooh’s father ordered his son not to board the flight and wait for him. After some time he arrived with tin-packed food for all the weightlifters,” they said.

Interestingly, PSB’s adopted air route for the Games also proved highly expensive — for each player it had to pay Rs170,000.

Had the PSB sent the contingent by road via Wagah Border to Amritsar (as there is no security issue for a Pakistani in Indian Punjab), and from Amritsar via Delhi-Shillong-Guwahati on a plane, the cost of the air travel would have been one-fourth of what was actually incurred.

Earlier, it may be mentioned here, the government had also made a plan to send the 450-strong Pakistan contingent on a chartered plane, an option that was again less expensive than what the PSB paid for the Doha-India route.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2016