Monday November 28, 2022

75th Independence Day: Going forward, sports is our best bet

August 14, 2022

Seventy-five years is a milestone in anyone’s life, an organisation or for that matter, a country! We have, by the Grace of Almighty Allah, reached this glorious milestone. It is our responsibility to look ahead and find new grounds, some sporting avenues to change the narrative. Let us see how this can happen.

It was such a wonderful sight to see how the athletes of relatively lesser-known countries were winning at the recent World Athletics Championships 2022, and the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022. They showcased their respective countries to the world with distinction and aplomb. It was as simple as that, winning the hearts of people on world stage.

Nooh Dastagir Butt (weightlifting) and Arshad Nadeem (javelin throw) did the honours for Pakistan in Birmingham and lifted the spirits of a nationwide audience by bagging the ultimate gold! It was a sight to behold to see our very own world-beaters on the podium while the spectators in the packed stadiums stood up (with millions watching on TV) to pay respect to our glorious flag and the national anthem. Have we finally come of age, in global sports?

At the world games, fourteen unlikely countries snatched the GOLD from athletes of advanced nations of the world: Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Grenada, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Peru, Qatar, Slovenia, The Bahamas, Uganda, and Venezuela. Their victories launched a million smiles and an ocean of tears. It was a heartwarming experience.

Since nothing much has worked for us in our quest for a softer image of Pakistan, it can be safely assumed that sports are our best bet. Let’s work on that front as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of our independence on 14th August 2022. We must look beyond our shenanigans and present Jinnah’s Pakistan in right earnest, with resolve and all the values sports teach us -- hard work, discipline, commitment, honesty, magnanimity, and chivalry. Let our sporting victories define our global reputation as a nation and spark a ray of hope for coming generations.

The following countries (listed alphabetically) have won medals in recent international competitions or have made an impact in their respective sporting disciplines: Algeria, Belarus, Bolivia, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Costa Rica, Cote d’lvoire, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Greece, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Latvia, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Uganda, Ukraine, and Venezuela.

Many other smaller countries of Europe, Far East, and the Middle East have not been included in the list but have made their way on global podiums. It is a fantastic show of hard work, perseverance, and resilience. What a great feeling for the athletes of these countries to stand proud on the victory podium, see their flag fluttering and sing their national anthems! Sometimes, tears roll down the faces of these athletes who cannot contain their feeling for their beloved lands. We could see that feeling of pride on the faces of Nooh and Arshad! We owe them much of our future planning.

The listed countries above are not superpowers or economic giants but truly devoted nations who, by dint of hard work and commitment, revel in their newfound successes. Their athletes compete fiercely and win events with amazing grace, drape themselves with the country flags with pride, and bring home the glory and joy that catapults their beloved lands to be the envy of people everywhere.

It is very unfortunate that Pakistan does not feature consistently among this comity of nations. The time has come for Pakistan to turn to sports if we are to win the hearts of people everywhere by turning a new page in our history. Every medium worth its salt gives coverage to global sporting events, live or as part of their news reports. These are big events of the global stage where almost every nation, big or small, rich or poor, significant or insignificant, comes out and shines in its own resolute way.

Among the top events are the Olympics, World Athletic Championships, World Cup Soccer, Wimbledon Tennis Championships, US Open, Roland Garros (French) Open, Australian Open, the Golf Masters, PGA Championships, and the Ryder Cup. Although cricket has a massive TV audience, mainly because of the large populations in countries where it is played, viewed, and enjoyed, it is not among the star attractions of global world of sports. Hence, the saying “jungle mein morr nacha, kis ne dekha”.

Even in these circumstances, there is no doubt in my mind why Pakistan cannot produce world class athletes to compete against the best. Though we have the human resource, natural physical and intellectual abilities, we don’t have an organised system of scouting, identifying, training and coaching potential stars. Sports in Pakistan can change for the better if there is adequate federal and corporate funding. Therefore, going forward, this is our challenge as we celebrate and move beyond the 75th anniversary of our independence.