Pakistan did not win any medals at the Olympic Games held in Rio this year.
They just had seven athletes, thanks to the continental quota scheme and wildcard entries given by the International Olympics Committee, otherwise not a single athlete from the country with 200 million population managed to qualify.
It was the first time since 1948 that their hockey team failed to make it to the Olympics. They were their only hope, their only pride. So much so that the captain of the Pakistan hockey team has always been the contingent’s flag bearer at the Games.
But what can one expect when our hockey players are paid so poorly? What can one expect when all they eat are dates and naan-cholay during international tournaments? What can one expect when Pakistan Hockey Federation has always inadequate resources for investing in the sport?
This year, they had pinned their hopes to judoka Shah Hussain, but his campaign, too, ended in disappointment. He could hardly withstand his Ukrainian opponent for more than two minutes.
Pakistan expected a good show from Hussain, especially after he won silver for the country in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. But why blame him? Hussain trains on his own in Japan, with no support whatsoever from any of the sports federations or associations active in the country.
This time around, Pakistan also had more officials than athletes in their Olympics contingent. Out of the total seven, the two foreign-based athletes, swimmers Lianna Swan and Haris Bandey couldn’t live up to people’s expectations either.
Bandey finished last in the 400m freestyle swimming heats, hitting 4:33:13 on the clock.
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Lianna, who is a South Asian Games gold medalist, holds about a dozen Pakistan national records. It would be harsh to expect from her to make it to the semi-finals keeping in view the stiff competition, but she could at least have tried to achieve a personal best in Rio.
But why should we blame Bandey or Lianna?
The Pakistan Olympic Association and Pakistan Sports Board are engaged in their own political battles that nobody took the time to notice, take responsibility or possibly handover their resignations on poor run by the country’s athletes in the Games.
Arguably the performance that stood out the most from amongst the participating Pakistani athletes came from 21-year-old Minahil Sohail, who took part in the 10m air rifle shooting competition.
She finished a relatively encouraging 28th out of 51 athletes participating in the event and missed out on reaching the final by a mere 2.7 points.
Minahil is surely a star in the making and can perform better, if not win a medal, in Tokyo 2020. But for that, she needs the necessary support and encouragement in the coming four years.
Kimia Alizadeh (Iran), Sara Samir (Egypt) and Hedaya Wahba (Egypt) won historic medals for their respective countries in Rio, so why shouldn’t Pakistan expect their athletes to top the charts?
The country has a proud history in athletics with 14 gold medals at the Asian Games level, but has not won a medal of any kind since the 1994 edition in Hiroshima, Japan. The slump continued in Rio, with both Pakistani participants in athletics fighting for the wooden spoon.
Najma Parveen finished a poor 70th out of 72 participants in the 200m sprint competition, while Mehboob Ali only did a touch better by finishing 46th out of 53 competitors.
Lack of quality infrastructure and training facilities have kept Pakistan behind the rest of the world. Pakistan should learn from Kenyan and Ethiopian long distance runners who make the transition from running on open fields — often barefoot — to becoming global sensations.
As Pakistan returned empty-handed from the Games in Rio, Kosovo, Fiji, Puerto Rico, Kuwait, Tajikistan, and Ivory Coast won their first gold medals. Pakistan have not won any medal for six consecutive Games, which makes it 24 years.
And it does not seem like the Tokyo 2020 Games would be any different.
Should we expect Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to interfere? He has been in office for over three years and he doesn’t seem to have taken much interest in the area so far.
Aside from taking an active interest in the welfare of sports in the country, can the prime minister undertake the task of significantly reducing, if not eliminating, political influence that is ruining Pakistan’s sports infrastructure?