The world’s biggest sporting event, Rio Olympics 2016, ended on a miserable note for Pakistan. It was heart-wrenching to see that not even a single athlete of this nation of nearly 200 million people could qualify for the event, let alone winning any medal. How embarrassing is the fact that all seven athletes from Pakistan, the country which prides itself on producing the world’s best sportsmen, participated in the games through wildcard entries. It was not a lifetime ago when Pakistan was amongst the top two in the world in cricket, hockey, snooker and squash. But, unfortunately, that’s not the case today.
Pakistanis are a sports-loving nation. There was a time only a few years ago when Pakistan ruled the worlds of cricket, hockey, snooker and squash. All rankings of best players in many of the games were considered incomplete without Pakistani players. Khans of NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) were considered undefeatable in squash. Cricketing greats and geniuses like the Little Master Hanif Mohammad (late), the Asian Bradman Zaheer Abbas, the Run Machine Javed Miandad, the Googly Master Abdul Qadir, the Lion of Pakistan Imran Khan, and great bowlers like Fazal Mehmood, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, et al., dominated the world of cricket, cueists like Muhammad Yousaf, Saleh Mohammad and Naveen Perwani left their mark on the international snooker, and a long list of the great players of hockey the country has produced. Shahbaz Ahmad Sr., Khalid Bashir, the great Hassan Sardar, Kaleemullah, Munir Dar, Shahnaz Sheikh, and, of course, the Flying Horse Samiullah, kept the country’s flag high in hockey grounds for decades. But, the country is seen nowhere in world sports ranking and what could be a more painful reminder of that than the fact that all the seven Pakistani participants in Rio Olympics 2016 were given wildcard entries and they stood “no chance of winning medals” as predicted by Mr Arif Hasan, the Pakistan Olympic Association president.
Today, the dilapidated gyms and crumbling sports fields, government’s inattention, non-existent grassroots system, cash-strapped federations and last but, certainly, not least over-popularization of cricket speak volumes about the state of Pakistani sports. However, it was not always like that. The projectile growth of sports ended in mid-nineties. Since then, it has been a free fall for Pakistani sports.
So, what are the reasons behind the decline of sports in our country? There could be a thousand different reasons why Pakistan fell from being a powerhouse in sports like hockey and squash to the point of becoming an also-ran in these games. Some important of them are as follows:
1. No Government Patronization
Most of Pakistan’s successes in sports arena were ‘heaven-sent’. It is no less than a miracle that a country with little or no sporting infrastructure quickly rose as a force to be reckoned with globally in a variety of sports. Almost all of the top national sportsmen starting with Hashim Khan to the legendary Jahangir Khan—the greatest-ever squash player—and to Jansher Khan who, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, “was among the sport’s most illustrious figures,” were self-made sportsmen.
Muhammad Yousaf, who didn’t had enough money to buy a pair of shoes to participate in the international event, also struggled all by himself to reach the zenith of success. Their success made us overconfident and we thought it was our birthright to excel at the world level. This slackness and lack of due attention by the government are responsible for the fact that we have not developed even a single world-class sports academy in the country.
2. Lack of Planning
Planning has long been our bête noire. A look at sports would show that the word ‘long-term planning’ doesn’t exist in Pakistan’s dictionary. Most often our planning, howsoever insignificant it may be, begins with a physical training camp and ends with it. Across the spectrum of Pakistan sports, things are done almost on a day-to-day basis but that doesn’t work actually. When we return empty-handed from a major event like the Olympics, we do not blame our ineptitude at long-term planning but call it the wretchedness of the fate and then go into slumber, again. For the revival of sports in the country, chalking out long-term, prudent and practicable plans is more than necessary now.
3. Intermittent Government Support
Pakistan’s most prosperous period in sports was that when General Ziaul Haq ruled the country. He was the one who realized the true potential of sports in the country and pumped in substantial funds for sports activities and rewarded sportsmen and women, turning them into national heroes. Unfortunately, successive governments failed to emulate him. What we see today are the consequences of an irregular support from the government for Pakistan sports.
4. Imprudent Planning
Many critics blame the lack of infrastructure as one of the root causes of our decline in sports. However, what has dogged us more than anything else is that we failed to systematically improve and utilize whatever infrastructure the country had developed over the years. Wastage of money on building huge complexes, like the Pakistan Sports Complex in Islamabad, without developing a proper system to use it on a regular basis has been the real problem. Such wastage prevents proper utilization of the available infrastructure. There is no point in building more and more stadiums, if you can’t put the existing ones to good use.
5. Same Old Methods
It is another painful fact that we have been unable to keep abreast of the latest technological and other advancements in sports arena across the world. We often hear people moaning that Pakistan no longer produces great sportsmen like Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Shahbaz Ahmad, Jahangir Khan and many others. And, it’s absolutely true. But what we fail to understand is that over the past few years, the world of sports has advanced to a different level. Take, for instance, hockey. We have failed to keep pace with the change of rules of the game as well as its very nature. In the past sport was an art, today it is pure science. Today, we are trying to win a war with bows and arrows while the players across the world are equipped with the latest gadgetry.
6. Prehensile Officials
Pakistani sports saw a long golden period when great people like Justice AR Cornelius, the 4th Chief Justice of Pakistan, from 1960 to 1968, and Air Marshal Nur Khan, the Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Air Force (1965-1969) and a hero of the 1965 Pakistan-India war, were at its helm. These two visionary great men helped shape great things for Pakistan in the field of sports, especially cricket, hockey and squash. Unfortunately, those who succeeded them were not as honest and dedicated. Cornelius-Nur Khan duo believed in giving to Pakistan sports rather than taking from it. But, unfortunately, it has mostly been the other way round after them, especially during the last three decades or so. Over the years, all spheres of Pakistani sports saw the rise of people who worked to protect their own vested interests rather than developing the sports. Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), Pakistan Sports Board (PSB), Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) and many other sports federations and associations are being run by people who are not related to sports and who are working only to promote their own personal gains more than anything else. Some are there because the job pays well with minimum responsibility and accountability. Some are there to make money by using whatever means available. Others are there for the perks; and there are many for many of them.
7. Lack of Professionalism
It is the core of justice that a person should not be assigned a task on which he does not have the requisite knowledge and skills. This is called professionalism which, unfortunately, solely lacks when it comes to running the sports affairs in our country. No doubt, there is nothing wrong in looking for a job in sports federations but there is everything wrong about landing a job there without possessing the sort of credentials required to fulfil it. In sports federations, there are many people who have reached at the top without having any knowledge of the related sport and even an iota of qualification required for that particular position. In some cases, it’s the government that handpicks a certain person to head either the cricket board or the hockey federation. Such practice has, over time, eroded professionalism from Pakistan sports.
8. Ignoring Grassroots Level
No country can dream of excelling in sports sans patronizing and promoting such activities at the grassroots level. Pakistan’s early success in sports was dependent on sportsmen coming from schools, colleges and universities. Then there were clubs that provided lifeblood to sports like hockey and cricket. Due to one reason or the other, all of that has withered. Today, very few schoolchildren in Pakistan have access to proper sports facilities like grounds, tracks, gyms, etc. The club structure in almost all major sports is in disarray across the country.
Unemployment of Sportspersons
An overwhelming majority of Pakistani sportspersons hail from modest backgrounds. For them, sports is not only a passion but also a means to earn their bread and butter. During the heydays of Pakistani sports, there was hardly any worthwhile sportsperson without a proper job. All departments and major banks like PIA, Railways, Sui Gas, Wapda, Army, Navy, PAF, Customs, HBL, NBP, etc., had sports teams. They had full-fledged sports departments that hired players. But, things have changed now. Most organisations have closed their sports wings. It has really affected the standard of sports in our country.
At its height, Pakistan’s sporting success was a miracle. At its low, has been a disaster, an utter disappointment. From taking success for granted to becoming indifferent to a vital sport like athletics, we have committed a series of grave mistakes and are now suffering the consequences. Corruption, nepotism and player politics are like a coup de grâce for the structure of Pakistani sports. With low lights at the end of the tunnel, it looks an uphill task for Pakistani sportsmen to regain their long-lost glory. However, despite this bleak picture, sports in Pakistan have the ability to be resurrected. This revival of sports in general requires sweeping changes made to the infrastructure and the mindset on Pakistan’s athletes. So, the government must take immediate steps to raise the level of sports in every corner of Pakistan as it is the only way to enhance the interest of people in games and making them contribute to bring our lost glory back.