KARACHI: Most of the National Sports Federations often criticise government and attribute falling standard of country’s sports graph to the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) apathy for not releasing their annual grants and rewards to international medal-winning athletes.

Contrary to their chorus every now and then, it is on record that the PSB released an enormous amount of Rs1.06 billion to the National Sports Federations during the last five-years (2014-2015 to 2018-2019) under annual grants/special grants/grants released as per directives of president or prime minister.

Recently the Minister for International Provincial Coordination (IPC) Dr Fehmida Mirza doled out cheques to medal-winning athletes of the South Asian Games held at Kathmandu last year. Ironically, the role of coaches has always been downplayed. The government should also honour coaches of medal-winning athletes.

As part of its duty, the PSB had also organised national training camps for 20 disciplines in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi in 2018-2019 in order to prepare the athletes for the South Asian extravaganza.

Athletes suffer due to closure of departments

It is a fact that despite spending millions of rupees on athletes, Pakistan, once a force to be reckoned with in the regional spectacle, overall finished fourth with 32-41-59 medals ahead of Bangladesh, Maldives and Bhutan. Neighbouring India returned with a mammoth 173 gold medals to retain the top slot. Even hosts Nepal and Sri Lanka ended way ahead of Pakistan.

It is also on record that the government has always rewarded its athletes for their heroics in global competitions in cash and kind since gaining independence. Be it Tamgha-e-Imtiaz or Pride of Performance, residential plots or agriculture lands, departmental promotions or the cash prizes.

The Imran Khan government has, however, come down hard by putting an embargo on releasing the funds to Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) on reports of alleged corrupt practices and deteriorating standard of national game. Though the PHF got Rs420.4m, the highest grant released to any federation, the nation is paying the price of greenshirts’ failure to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Earlier too, Pakistan hockey team missed the bus for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

After assuming power, Imran had immediately removed the then PCB chief Najam Sethi, but it appears that he has compromised on PHF president retired Brig Khalid Sajjad Khokhar who managed to extend his term last year.

It is an irony that none of the federations have devised marketing strategy to keep the ball rolling in the absence of government grant-in-aid that is allegedly misused. Instead of looking to the government for funds, the federations should chip in private sponsors to run their shows.

Though the Pakistan Billiards and Snooker Federation (PBSF) received Rs30.5m from the PSB during (2014-2015 to 2018-2019) it has done away with the practice of holding camps for cueists prior to their departure abroad. For quite some time now the PBSF has also curtailed the annual men’s ranking events from four to three. There are many grey areas but instead of overcoming them, the officials are raising their profiles at the cost of cueists’ feats.

Sources say incumbent world snooker champion Mohammad Asif, perhaps, damaged his case when he lost his patience and said that ‘he’d not play for country in future if not rewarded for his second world title’. The clip went viral on social media. It is on record that he was honoured by the government in cash and kind on his first world title besides others.

It would be wise that the government should devise award criteria for cueists as they don’t fall in the existing category of Olympics, Asian, Commonwealth and SA Games.

True, the closure of sports departments of financial institutions and other sectors has saddened the sports fraternity. No sportsperson could have expected such a harsh decision from Test-cricketer turned Prime Minister Imran Khan that he would bury the sports. The abrupt and unfortunate order has left thousands of promising players and would-be future stars jobless.

China is a role model for Pakistan and we should learn from its rise to the top of ladder at 2008 Beijing Olympics surpassing the US before home crowd. It didn’t happen in a short span of time but it was a struggle of 16 years and a step-by-step rise at the top.

China finished overall fourth on the final medal count at the 1996 Atlanta Games with 16 golds, 22 silver and 12 bronze. The US, Russia and Germany grabbed the top three places respectively. Four years later at Sydney, China leaped one place to secure overall third position with 28 golds, 16 silver and 15 bronze.

At Athens, China finished behind the US returning with a haul of 32-17-14 medals. And finally it was like a dream coming true at Beijing where China eclipsed the US amassing 51-21-28 medals to rule the world. The US had to be content with 36-38-36 medals.

It is, indeed, need of the hour that we should redevelop sports culture in a positive way taking China’s example as a barometer to lift the country’s sports graph.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2020