KARACHI, March 10: Money can’t win medals. This is, perhaps, the moral of the story when a careful assessment is made of country’s sports supremo, Lt. Gen Syed Arif Hasan’s three years in office as president Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) which gets completed on Sunday.
It was on March 11, 2004, when Arif Hasan was unanimously elected to the helm of affairs of the POA which was seen as a revolution of sorts in the annals of Pakistan sports. In the process, he succeeded Syed Wajid Ali Shah who served for quarter-of-a-century.
The change of guard was welcomed by all and sundry as it promised to take the country’s deteriorating sports to new heights. Instead of looking at the government for money, he transformed the idea of instituting lottery (Hero Pakistani) to raise funds.
A new precedent was set when millions of rupees were doled out to the cash-strapped national sports federations as well as to the athletes who had never seen such lavish grants and rewards coming their way. However, in the end the net result was agonisingly poor.
At the outset, Arif made POA a laughing stock by inducting no less then ten vice-presidents and eight associate secretaries in a 40-member executive committee which surprisingly did not include the treasurer.
Sports policy: Soon after taking charge, he admitted flaws in national sports policy which, according to him, was formulated unilaterally without taking into confidence the quarters concerned.
“The government and POA had not coordinated on sports policy, hence the conflict continuing for last three years,” the retired general had told a press conference.
The country’s first ever national sports policy which was announced on Feb 15, 2001, was not implemented in letter and spirit as Arif compromised on certain issues. This is evident by the fact that same faces are glued to their seats in federations for decades and want their name in Guinness Book of World Records as longest serving officials.
The retired general made a three-hour presentation to president, General Pervez Musharraf, on Oct 30, 2004, on national sports strategy in which, among other things, cash incentives were offered to athletes excelling in international events.
The same year, Arif defended the country’s athletes for their failure at Athens Olympics by saying, “It’s the system that needs to be improved.”
However, it was surprising on the retired general’s part to keep mum when as many as 20 officials accompanied the 26 athletes to Athens where Pakistan hockey team finished a dismal fifth.
Figures also reveal that Pakistan spent Rs 8.580 million on participation at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. This includes Rs 5.450m in air fare, Rs 2.215m as out pocket allowance and Rs 0.915 as miscellaneous. Net result was a gold, three silvers and a bronze.
Pakistan featured in 10 disciplines at the Islamic Games and with the exception of tennis, others returned empty-handed. Pakistan fetched three gold and a bronze – all in tennis – to finish 11th on the medals table.
Doping cases: The POA president failed to penalise any of those national sports federations whose athletes were tested positive at the two South Asian Games besides three musclemen during his three-year stint so far.
Three weightlifters – Ali Akbar, Alimuddin Kakar and Hasan Aslam – and boxer Nauman Karim were stripped of their gold medals for using banned substance at Islamabad SA Games.
Similarly, this was followed by another incident when two pugilists – Mehrullah and Faisal Karim - tested positive at the Colombo meet and had to surrender their medals.
The year 2006 culminated at the Doha Asian Games where a 200-member squad could only earn a silver and three bronze between them.
The Doha sojourn was preceded by elections of Pakistan Bodybuilding Federation and Arif’s close associate Col Mohammad Yayha, who was elected as body’s president, prevailed and got the discipline included for the trip to Games.
However, dope tests of three Doha-bound musclemen prior to departure resulted in positive and finally they were dropped. They were identified as Atif Anwar Ali, Khalid Ali and Shoaib Zahoor.
Hero Card: The PST which fetched massive money from Hero Pakistani Card scheme disbursed nearly Rs43million to 25 national federations in two instalments last year.
Rs22.30m was given in Feb followed by release of Rs20.60m to 14 sports bodies for preparation for the 10th SA Games. In addition, equipments worth Rs23million were given in two phases.
The sale of Hero Pakistani Card which was suspended in Oct 2005 due to earthquake was re-launched in Karachi on Nov 29 last year. The hiring of Dubai based firm, Comset, as consultants for the marketing of Hero Card without any prequalification has also raised quite a few eyebrows. The audit report of Hero Card needs to be made public people to know the facts and exact disbursement of money.
Arif also told president Musharraf that except for Islamabad, the National Games cannot be efficiently organised elsewhere because of inadequate facilities. A powerful figure in Pakistan sports, Arif Hasan is also the founding chairman of the 11-member Board of Governors of Pakistan Sports Trust (PST). However, despite holding such important portfolios, he has not been able to remove the glitches that mar smooth running of sports affairs in the country.
What Arif needs to realise urgently is the fact that the system will never improve unless he makes it mandatory that no official - whosoever he may be - would be allowed to hold any office in a national federation or its affiliated units beyond two terms.
There’s an urgent need for setting short and long term goals aimed at creating sporting culture across the country. For instance, Islamabad has served as a venue to SA Games twice and now its time that infra structure including Olympic stadium and residential village should be created in the outskirts of Karachi to hold the next edition when the turn comes.
Similarly, Pakistan should learn from smaller nations who have played host to Asian Games, Doha being the latest example.
Investing millions of rupees on beaten up horses will not serve the purpose as a number of federations don’t have three-tier system. India’s Punjak Advani won the world amateur snooker title at the age of 16 in 2003 in the Chinese city of Jiangmen and on the other hand, the Pakistan Billiards and Snooker Association (PBSA) had done away with the National Junior Snooker Championship long ago. ‘Catch ‘em young’ is a famous phrase used in sports for spotting and grooming of the youth and that’s exactly what Arif Hasan needs to do if he wants to secure the country’s future in sports.
Pakistan’s performance in major events during Arif Hasan’s three-year tenure as POA chief
G S B
9th South Asian Games Islamabad 2004 38 55 50
Olympic Games Athens 2004 0 0 0
Islamic Games Saudi Arabia 2005 3 0 1
Commonwealth Games Melbourne 2006 1 3 1
10th South Asian Games Colombo 2006 41 44 71
Asian Games Doha 2006 0 1 3