KARACHI: Over the years, Pakistan’s sports authorities have largely ignored one of the vital aspects required to transform talented youngsters into world class athletes — fitness.
While the world of sports has experienced a fitness revolution in the last three decades, Pakistan has been left behind with most of its sportspersons still deprived of modern equipment and training.
And it shows in their performance.
Pakistan’s last Olympic medal — a hockey bronze — came way back in 1992 in Barcelona. Their medals tally in other international events like the Asian Games has also taken a dip. Even in sports like squash and hockey, in which Pakistan were undisputed world champions, there has been a complete decline.
Experts believe that one of the reasons behind Pakistan’s sporting downfall is the fact that the country’s athletes lag far behind their counterparts from leading sporting nations due to lack of proper facilities.
But in a highly positive development, it is expected that things will change for the better for national athletes in the near future.
A top national sports official told ‘The News’ in an exclusive interview that efforts are being made to bring a sea change in the fitness training infra-structure for elite national athletes with a series of steps that include setting up a state-of-the-art biomechanics lab and a world class, high altitude fitness training centre.
Col Asif Zaman, Director General of the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB), said that it was high time that steps were taken to bring national athletes at par with world class sports persons by enhancing their fitness levels.
“It’s clear that our athletes have to raise their fitness levels and that can only be done with the help of proper equipment and training,” he said.
“We have been working on this aspect and are on the verge of achieving key targets,” he added.
Col Asif, a former junior squash champion and younger brother of Pakistan squash legend Qamar Zaman, said that the biggest development in terms of building fitness infrastructure will come in the shape of a top class biomechanics lab.
“You cannot have world class athletes without a biomechanics lab,” he said.
According to Col Asif the lab will be established at the PSP Sports Complex by the end of this year.
The biomechanics lab will be established with the help of Qatar’s famous Aspire Academy.
“We have bought the best equipment to set up the lab. We will bring in experts to equip the lab and train our people to run it.”
Col Asif said that the lab will cater to national athletes in a variety of sports helping them in raising their fitness levels and perhaps more importantly in avoiding injuries.
The history of Pakistan sports is dotted with serious yet avoidable injuries to its top athletes which ended their careers prematurely. Record eight-time World Open champion Jansher Khan saw his career cut short due to a knee injury at 29. The injury ended his reign as World No.1 for a record ten years.
“Back then I had no knowledge of ways and means to prevent such injuries,” Jansher told ‘The News’. “It’s the same even today for our athletes which is very unfortunate,” he added.
Currently, one of the country’s leading athletes facing fitness problems is star javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem. Pakistan’s top medal prospect for the 2024 Olympics in Paris, Arshad has been dogged by an elbow problem and could be forced to undergo surgery.
“A lot of injuries can be avoided with the help of biomechanics,” said Col Asif.
Techniques including mathematical modelling, computer simulations, and measurements are used in biomechanics to enhance performance and reduce injury. It also helps identify optimal movement patterns to improve sport-specific techniques.
At the moment, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) runs the country’s sole biomechanics lab.
The next big target for PSB is establishing a high-altitude fitness centre for the country’s elite athletes in Skardu, situated at an elevation of almost 2500 metres.
“We have acquired a suitable piece of land to establish a full-fledged training facility in Skardu for leading national athletes as well as juniors,” Col Asif said.
“Efforts are on to establish a world class fitness training facility in Skardu. We can have camps there throughout the year for athletes from different disciplines,” he added.
Col Asif said that the PSB has also requested the Pakistan Army to establish a National Fitness Academy at the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad.
“We have talked about the possibility of having a full-fledged National Fitness Academy in Abbottabad. Pakistan Army has extensive facilities and seasoned trainers and we believe that the national athletes can fully benefit from them.”
Over the years, various national sports persons including cricketers, hockey players and athletes have attended boot camps with Army trainers in Abbottabad. Col Asif is now hoping that the Academy will be transformed into a full-time fitness training facility for national athletes.
“Everyone talks about our athletes’ inability to win medals in events like the Olympics,” he said. “We should instead be making more and more efforts to provide our athletes with much-needed facilities and training. Once that happens, I’m sure we will start winning medals.”
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