ISLAMABAD / KARACHI / LAHORE: The government wants to revive Pakistan’s sporting fortunes, starting with asking the country’s Olympic chief to leave his post.
The demand came from Shahbaz Gill, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, at a news conference held at the Press Information Department on Friday, asking retired Lt Gen Arif Hasan to resign as the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) president, a post he’s held since 2004.
Pakistan have failed to win an Olympic medal since 1992, the drought now extending to 2024 after no medal was won at the recently-concluded Tokyo Olympics during which a blame-game ensued between the POA and the Pakistan Sports Board regarding the preparation of athletes.
And after a meeting was held under the chairmanship of the prime minister to discuss the Olympic showing on Friday, it was decided that the only way that drought is to end was to ask Mr Arif to quit.
“We cannot tolerate further embarrassment in sports,” Mr Gill told reporters, flanked by Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Fehmida Mirza and PSB director-general retired Col Mohammad Asif Zaman. “And on behalf of the nation, I will ask POA president to resign.”
Mr Gill said that POA had no accountability during Mr Arif’s reign during the last 17 years, adding that the government would not hold back from taking action now.
Fehmida Mirza echoed Shahbaz Gill’s demand.
“What we’ve seen over the years is that one personality is above everyone, above the law, above the government and has become untouchable,” she told Dawn following the news conference.
“After becoming POA chief, Arif changed its constitution, removing the prime minister as its patron and hence there was never any accountability during his term. He also added hand-picked members as independent voters so he can cling on to his post.”
Ms Fehmida added that the POA had consistently absolved itself of responsibility of developing sports in the country.
In the past, there have been attempts to force the ouster of Mr Arif but pressure from the International Olympic Committee, which does not allow for political or government interference in the matters of its member organisations, saw the government back down.
The POA has for long claimed that its duty is to monitor the observance of the Olympic charter and the World Anti-Doping Agency code in Pakistan.
Following the news conference in Islamabad, it held an emergency meeting in Lahore to decide its stance. It did not immediately send out a press statement but Dawn has learnt that it will write a letter to the prime minister, asking for an opportunity to brief him.
“We will be holding a news conference on Tuesday to reply to today’s presser,” POA general secretary Khalid Mahmood told Dawn on Friday. “We’re also calling an emergency general council meeting within 15 days.”
The POA will also inform the prime minister that Mr Arif was elected through a fair process in 2019, with representatives from the IOC and the Olympic Council of Asia also in attendance. It will also reiterate that interference in its matters will lead to intervention by the IOC.
The threat of action and possible suspension from the IOC was discussed during the meeting with the prime minister, sources said. Currently, Pakistan is suspended by global football body FIFA after a court-elected body seized control of the Pakistan Football Federation headquarters from the FIFA-appointed Normalisation Committee.
Sources told Dawn that also in attendance at that meeting were Athletics Federation of Pakistan president retired Maj Gen Akram Sahi, who twice contested and failed in his bid for the POA presidency, Pakistan Hockey Federation secretary Asif Bajwa and former PFF general secretary retired Col Mujahid Tareen.
Squash great Jansher Khan was also invited but couldn’t attend.
Among the 10 athletes who took part in the Olympics, only javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem and weightlifter Talha Talib came close to winning a medal. Both finished fifth in their respective disciplines.
Ms Mirza said the government wanted to improve “sports governance in the country and bring transparency”.
“We’ve been pushing on the implementation of a national sports policy but it is Arif who’s been resisting it. We want the federations to be accountable but they don’t want to do that. How can we revive sports when things are the way they are?” she questioned.
She added that the POA was also putting hurdles in forming the National Anti-Doping Organisation (NADO). The AFP is currently suspended by the POA after three athletes tested positive for banned substances during the 2019 South Asian Games.
“The POA wants to have its own doctor to be heading NADO,” alleged Fehmida, before going further and blaming Pakistan Army and Wapda for the positive dope tests.
“The athletes who tested positive were from those two departments. They are the biggest supporters of Arif and instead of taking action against them, it’s the AFP which is being victimized.”
Fehmida also said that the POA obliges its supporters by sending them to the Olympics as coaches.
“The Pakistan Badminton Federation secretary was there in Tokyo as the coach of Mahoor Shahzad, while the Pakistan Weightlifting Federation president travelled as the coach of Talha,” she said, adding that sprinter Najma Parveen was sent to the Olympics without the consent of AFP.
“The AFP didn’t want to send Najma and had informed us that she wasn’t fit to participate but she was sent to oblige her coach.”
During the Games, the POA blamed Pakistan’s poor performance on the PSB returning unutilized funds amounting to Rs440million back to the finance ministry.
It said that those funds could have been used in preparation of athletes who were due to take part at the Games and also alleged that the IPC did not send any summary to the prime minister to get funds for Olympic preparations.
Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2021