PAKISTAN’S impressive showing at the 13th South Asian Games in Nepal, where the national sports contingent has won more than 130 medals, has done much to lift the pall of gloom that had descended on the country’s sports scene for the past decade and a half. The question has been asked many times: what went wrong in a nation that had in previous years enjoyed tremendous success in cricket, hockey, squash, snooker, boxing, athletics and table tennis? Sports in the country has witnessed regression, controversy and abysmal campaigns, especially at mega events such as the Olympics, Asian Games, World Cups, Commonwealth Games, etc at least since the start of the millennium. But the latest edition of the South Asian Games has showcased Pakistan’s potential, with the country’s sportspersons collecting a handsome share of medals in the martial arts, shooting, weightlifting, wrestling, swimming, athletics, squash, javelin throw, boxing, etc. Led by the brilliant Arshad Nadeem who won the men’s javelin throw to qualify directly for the 2020 Olympics, Pakistan’s men and women athletes have consistently performed well in Kathmandu to prove that the country is brimming with outstanding talent
Having said that, neither the government, nor the parent sports bodies, nor the private sector can take the credit. The government has been completely oblivious to the sporting woes of athletes and players in the country, and has done nothing to establish financial support or create a conducive environment or robust infrastructure. In fact, parent bodies such as the Pakistan Olympics Association and Pakistan Sports Board have been embroiled in ugly tussles which have harmed sports in the country. Pakistan’s demographics point to an advantage that is waiting to be tapped. There is a huge young population whose energy and ambition can be channelled towards sporting accomplishments. But sadly, there have been no long-term training programmes to groom sportspersons for national or international events, simply because the momentum for any long-term programme to reach fruition is often stymied by power struggles, corruption and nepotism. Regretfully, the private sector too has focused all its resources and energies on promoting cricket which has also been experiencing a downward spiral of late. To break the logjam, a transformational agenda has to emerge. Of course, there are no quick fixes, and reforms could take a decade to show results. But with the right people at the helm, Pakistan’s ambition to become a sporting nation could be put back on track.
Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2019