Pakistan was provided with yet another embarrassing moment on the world stage, this time courtesy of the country's chef-de-mission at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi where Dr Muhammad Ali Shah pulled off something that can only be described as a cheap stunt.
For all those who missed the glittering opening ceremony of the Games yesterday, here is what happened: The Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) had decided over a month ago that Shujauddin Malik, the country's gold medal winning weightlifter at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, would lead the Pakistan contingent during the ceremony. It was an honour well deserved for a man who not only won gold but also scripted his name in the record books for his 2006 effort. But as the ceremony started yesterday and teams strode into the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium one by one, the Pakistani contingent despite receiving the most rousing reception out of all the participating nations, experienced a moment of great embarrassment. It wasn't Malik who was seen carrying the flag and leading out the contingent but instead, it was Dr Shah - despite TV screens around the world displaying the name 'Shujauddin Malik'. Fine, one thought. 'maybe Malik wasn't feeling up to it.' But only moments later when people saw Dr Shah pushing aside Malik as cameras rolled, it was clear what the actual deal was.
After the ceremony was over, weightlifting team manager Rashid Mehmood came on air and revealed that Shah had told Malik that it was the chef-de-mission's right to lead the contingent as he was the 'senior' most out of all the personnel. Malik also came on air moments later and made another shocking revelation. He claimed, Shah after a tussle over the flag minutes before the opening ceremony, had threatened to send the weightlifter home if he did not respect Shah's decision.
I don't know what's more shocking, the insult meted out to the country's unsung hero, who despite a lack of facilities and even proper shoes remains the most likely medal hope at the Games or Dr Shah's claim that it was his right to lead the contingent. How he has earned that right is anyone's guess. But it seems investing in a few club level cricket tournaments, jousting like a knight after a female sprinter achieved the unthinkable and criticising the Pakistan Cricket Board while being a part of the same setup, gives him the right to publicly humiliate a national star along with the whole nation in a desperate effort for airtime.
Malik also revealed that he had controlled his emotions for Pakistan's sake even as he was pushed and shoved into the background. After the incident, the weightlifting team had threatened to pull out of the games unless Shah apologised but later decided that it was best for the country's image that they stay put. The Pakistan Olympics Association (POA) has announced it would be sanctioning the provincial minister over the matter. But Shah sahab has his connections, which would be enough to help him overturn POA’s decision. And we all know how much authority the POA really has. In a latest development Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has also demanded a report on the incident. I can safely predict the outcome of that: a meeting between Gilani and Shah and a press conference where the latter will apologise over the ‘misunderstanding.’ Even if Shah, in a most unlikely turn of events, is stripped of his position as Sindh Sports Minister, it will never come close to the honour Malik was robbed off.
No amount of sanctions will really make a difference now for the damage has already been done. Can we seriously expect the weightlifter to compete in the event with the same intensity after his spirit was already deflated at the starting line? Whatever the outcome, it has to be said that Pakistani athletes must be the toughest mentally contrary to the common belief around the world as these guys face the most bizarre hurdles and yet once in a while manage to bedazzle the world.
The whole incident while making a joke out of the country has also exposed the kind of mentality Shah and other people whom we thought were well-intentioned, passionate sports supporters really possess. They do it for the name and nothing else – especially not for the game.
Taimur Sikander is a Sports Editor at Dawn.com
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