THE National Games are supposed to be a quadrennial celebration of Pakistan’s top athletes who showcase their sporting excellence at the event. It is an occasion that grips the nation. Unfortunately, the ongoing edition in Quetta hasn’t been the extravaganza that was promised. Ahead of the Games, elaborate ceremonies were held during the torch relay — celebrating the event’s return to Balochistan’s capital after 19 years. The provincial government had vowed to make all-out efforts to publicise the event and make it successful. But the Games, which could have provided an outlet to a nation in the throes of political turmoil, have failed to captivate the country. Not even a dedicated website was launched for the event. There have been major hiccups too, especially in athletics, with the track and field programme starting on Friday, two days after it was scheduled to begin, due to differences between the Athletics Federation of Pakistan and the organising committee. The AFP president, who has opposed the current Pakistan Olympic Association set-up, had obtained a stay order against holding the athletics programme. The stay was later vacated and athletics is only going ahead after members proposed by him were included in the organising committee.
Uncertainty also surrounds the participation of Commonwealth Games record holder Nooh Dastagir Butt, with the weightlifter accused of being involved in politics by the Pakistan Weightlifting Federation. Other leading athletes, however, have shone at the event. But the way it was scheduled meant that most team sports were already over by the time the formal opening ceremony took place where the prime minister pledged to support sports in the country. Across the world, sports is a symbol of soft power but Pakistan lags behind in this, partly because sports federations don’t do enough, as is evident in the National Games. The organisers should ensure that the next time the Games are held they become a nationwide celebration and are not a mere sideshow.
Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2023
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