THE year 2019 was the year of ups and downs for Pakistan sports where its national hockey team failed to qualify for the Olympic Games for the second successive time whereas some fine performances were seen by the country’s athletes in other sports like wrestling, martial arts, shooting and a few other.

Recently, at the 13th South Asian Games which were held in Nepal between Dec 1-10, Pakistan finished fourth at the table with its athletes displaying great potential by winning 32 gold medals (132 overall) that included some stunning performances including the one put up by young Arshad Nadeem in javelin throw which created a new record.

Arshad threw a distance of 86.23 metres, surpassing previous record of 83.23metres and by virtue of that, he qualified for the next year2020 Tokyo Olympics. Other Pakistani athletes who have directly qualified for the 2020 Games are Gulfam Joseph, Ghulam Mustafa Bashir, Muhammad Khalil Akhtar in shooting events while Usman Khan has made it into the equestrian event in the Olympics Games.

India clinched top position in the 13th South Asian Games with 312 medals (174 gold, 93 silver, 45 bronze), it was the 12th time India secured 1st position out of 13 nations competing in the SAF Games whereas host country Nepal secured second position with 206 medals (51 gold, 60 silver, 95 bronze) and Sri Lanka finished third with 251 medals (40 gold, 83 silver, 128 bronze).

Pakistan took six gold medals in karate, five in athletics and five also in weightlifting, three in taekwondo, two each in judo, squash and shooting and one gold in handball, as compared to previous performance at the 12th SAF Games held at Gohati, India where Pakistan had won only 12 gold medals.

Wrestler Inam Butt, who was the only athlete from Pakistan to feature at the World Beach Games 2019 at Doha, Qatar, won a gold medal by defeating the Olympic bronze medalist Marsagishvili from Georgia.

On another front, brilliant Pakistani cueist Muhammad Asif won the IBSF World Snooker title for the second time after beating Philippine’s seasoned player Jefrey Roda in the final.

However, it is sad that despite the athletes winning so many winning laurels for the country at big international sports events, there was no acknowledgement or financial support by the government for the promotion of sports.

The reason our athletes do not feature in grat numbers at the mega events like the Olympics is that there is no proper system in place in Pakistan as compared to other nations. In many countries, the governments support their sportspersons by rewarding them richly over medal-winning feats, provide with best infrastructure and regular exposure by sending them to international events. Such measures tremendously boost the players’ morale and they strive for doing even better for their country.

Pakistan’s graph in major world sporting events like Olympics and the World Cups have unfortunately gone down over the past few decades which is evident from the fact that Pakistan won its last medal (bronze) as far back as the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. It was won by our hockey team under the captaincy of Shahbaz Ahmed.

It is unfair to hope for more medals at international level by our athletes and to expect great performances from them when they are not properly groomed or trained to compete at top level. Talent alone does not serve the purpose in the ultra-competitive world of sports today unless the athletes and players are trained and groomed well for the tough challenges.

The government should urgently look into ensuring major improvement in these areas with substantial financial and coaching support, in organising focussed, elaborate training camps before every mega event, patronise those federations which have been working hard and giving fine results and send players abroad for specialised training as and when required to match the best in the world.

At the closing ceremony of the 13th South Asian Games in Nepal, President Pakistan Olympic Association Lt Gen (R) Syed Arif Hasan received the SAG flag to host the next edition. Pakistan previously staged the South Asian Games in 2004 and this is once again a golden opportunity for us to show the world that Pakistan is a sporting nation with rich talent, top class grounds and facilities and a peaceful environment.

It is indeed a huge challenge for Pakistan to host the 14th South Asian Games but if the government, the concerned organisations, the federations and the athletes all are on one page with the mission to make Pakistan shine at the mega event, there’s nothing that is beyond us. Pakistan Zindabad!!!

Published in Dawn, January 5th, 2020