Another wake-up call

October 8, 2023

Pakistan’s lacklustre performance in Hangzhou: Urgent need for a comprehensive overhaul of sports infrastructure and development system

Another wake-up call

The 19th Asian Games 2023 held in Hangzhou, China, were a crucial litmus test for Pakistani athletes across various disciplines. Sadly, the nation’s efforts fell short of expectations, leaving a bitter taste of wasted opportunities. It was evident that Pakistani athletes not only lacked competitiveness but also struggled with optimal fitness and skills, failing to meet even the basic Asian standards.

he 19th Asian Games 2023 held in Hangzhou, China, were a crucial litmus test for Pakistani athletes across various disciplines. Sadly, the nation’s efforts fell short of expectations, leaving a bitter taste of wasted opportunities. It was evident that Pakistani athletes not only lacked competitiveness but also struggled with optimal fitness and skills, failing to meet even the basic Asian standards.

In stark contrast to Pakistan’s performance, the Indian contingent emerged as the shining star of the Games, turning in a remarkable performance. India bagged a staggering 81 medals so far, including 18 gold, 31 silver, and 32 bronze, securing a high fourth position in the overall medals tally. Pakistan’s tally is 2 medals. The Indian athletes exhibited textbook performances, undoubtedly attributed to their well-structured sports programs and academies back home. India’s success story was underpinned by professional coaching and advanced technical expertise, which was palpable throughout the competition. Team India’s performance was nothing short of commendable.

However, the same cannot be said for Pakistan’s athletes, who, despite their earnest efforts, delivered subpar performances across the board. Most athletes lacked the specialized training and coaching, mentoring, international exposure, and physical prowess necessary to compete effectively on the Asian Games stage or any international competition.

The disparities were evident, and it became apparent that Pakistan’s sports infrastructure needed a comprehensive overhaul. Hockey, once our pride and identity, suffered an embarrassing blow when, for the first time in our history, we conceded ten goals against India.

Nevertheless, the Asian Games offered a glimmer of hope and inspiration. The commitment and dedication displayed by both athletes and countries participating in the Games underscored the significance they attached to competing on the global stage. It was an opportunity to celebrate the essence of sportsmanship and international camaraderie, even in the face of significant challenges.

Pakistan now stands at a crossroads, facing a critical choice regarding the direction it wants to take in international sports. While sporadic successes can be celebrated, and past achievements glorified, they ring hollow when our athletes across various disciplines lack the requisite abilities, particularly skills, and physical conditioning to perform at their peak. To address these issues and seize the opportunities at hand, Pakistan must embark on a multifaceted steamroller journey of transformation, and undertake an overhaul of its sporting infrastructure:

1. Specialised
Training and

One of the most pressing issues that needs immediate attention is the provision of specialised training and coaching for Pakistani athletes. The success of high-performing athletes at the Asian Games is a result of a well-planned sports development system. Pakistan must invest in creating a network of sports academies and institutions that nurture talent from a young age and provide them with the best coaching available. These academies should focus on not only enhancing technical skills but also developing mental toughness and resilience. Recommended action steps:

Establish a National Sports Academy: The government should create a state-of-the-art National Sports Academy equipped with world-class facilities, coaching staff, and sports science resources.

Talent Identification Programs: Implement nationwide talent identification programs to identify promising athletes at an early age. Partner with schools and local sports clubs for talent scouting.

Coaching Certification: Introduce a rigorous certification program for coaches, ensuring that they are well-qualified and up-to-date with the latest training methodologies.

Mentoring System: Pair young athletes with experienced mentors who can guide them not only in terms of skills but also in mental toughness and resilience.

Sports Psychology and Nutrition: Include sports psychology and nutrition education in the coaching curriculum to enhance the mental and physical aspects of athlete development.

2. International

Participation in international competitions is vital for the growth of Pakistani athletes. The lack of exposure to high-level competition was evident in the Asian Games, where many Pakistani athletes seemed overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event. To rectify this, sports bodies in Pakistan should actively facilitate and sponsor athletes to participate in international tournaments, providing them with invaluable experience and the opportunity to measure themselves against world-class competitors. Recommended action steps:

Establish an Athlete Exchange Programme: Collaborate with sports organisations and institutions from countries with strong sporting traditions to facilitate exchanges where Pakistani athletes can train and compete abroad.

Fund Athlete Participation: Allocate funds to sponsor athletes’ participation in international competitions, covering expenses such as travel, accommodation, and entry fees.

Hosting International Events: Actively bid to host international sports events in Pakistan, providing a platform for local athletes to compete against top international talent on home soil.

3. Physical

Physical fitness and endurance are the cornerstones of athletic success. Pakistani athletes must undergo rigorous training programs aimed at enhancing their physical capabilities. This includes not only strength and endurance training but also injury prevention and rehabilitation. The development of state-of-the-art sports facilities and access to sports science and medicine should be a top priority. Recommended action steps:

State-of-the-Art Training Centers: Invest in building modern training centers equipped with the latest equipment and technologies, focusing on strength and conditioning, recovery, and injury prevention.

Sports Science and Medicine: Collaborate with universities and institutions to establish sports science and medicine research centers, offering athletes access to cutting-edge knowledge and facilities.

Professional Rehabilitation: Develop rehabilitation centers staffed with physiotherapists and sports medicine specialists to ensure quick and effective recovery from injuries.

4. Grassroots

The future of sports in Pakistan lies in its grassroots. A robust grassroots development program that identifies and nurtures talent at the grassroots level is essential. Schools and local urban and rural communities should be encouraged to promote sports as an integral part of education and recreation. Talent scouts should be actively scouting talent in every nook and corner of the country. Recommended action steps:

School Sports Programmes: Encourage schools to integrate sports into their curricula, making it mandatory for students to participate in physical education and sports activities.

Local Sports Clubs: Provide financial support and resources to local sports clubs and community centers to organise sports events and talent identification camps.

Talent Scouting: Establish a network of talent scouts who visit schools, colleges, and remote areas to identify and nurture budding athletes.

5. Government and
Corporate Support:

The government and corporate sector must recognize the importance of sports and invest in its development. This includes financial support for athletes, infrastructure development, and sponsorship of sports events. Initiatives like tax incentives for sports-related investments can also encourage private sector participation in sports development.

Recommended action steps:

Athlete Scholarships: Introduce scholarships for talented athletes to cover their training expenses, education, and other essential needs.

Tax Incentives: Offer tax incentives to corporations and individuals who invest in sports infrastructure, sponsor athletes, or support sports events.

Corporate Sponsorships: Encourage private sector companies to sponsor sports events, teams, and athletes, fostering a culture of corporate social responsibility in sports development.

6. Long-Term

Success in international sports requires a long-term vision and planning. Pakistan should establish clear and realistic long-term goals for each sport, backed by comprehensive development plans. These plans should encompass everything from talent identification to elite athlete development and competition strategies. Recommended action steps:

Sports Development Council: Establish a Sports Development Council comprising experts, former athletes, and government officials to create and oversee long-term sports development plans.

Sport-Specific Goals: Set clear, sport-specific goals with measurable milestones, and allocate resources accordingly.

Periodic Reviews: Conduct regular reviews and adjustments of the long-term plans to adapt to changing circumstances and emerging talent.

7. Public Awareness
and Support:

Lastly, the public’s support and enthusiasm for sports can play a pivotal role. Creating a sports culture where athletes are celebrated and admired can boost morale and inspire future generations. Media, both traditional and social, can play a significant role in promoting sports and athletes. Recommended action steps:

Media Campaigns: Launch media campaigns that celebrate local athletes, their achievements, and the values of sportsmanship.

Public Engagement: Organize sports festivals, exhibitions, and interactive events to engage the public with sports and create a sense of pride and connection with athletes.

School Programmes: Collaborate with schools to include sports-related activities and events in their annual calendars to involve students and parents.

Given the circumstances in which sports in Pakistan have been relegated, addressing these issues, and pursuing these opportunities can lead Pakistan to a brighter future in international sports. It requires a multi-pronged approach involving the government, sports organizations, the private sector, and the entire nation. With sustained effort, commitment, and investment, Pakistan can nurture its athletes and regain its competitive edge on the global sporting stage.

In conclusion, the lackluster performance of Pakistani athletes at the 19th Asian Games 2023 serves as a wake-up call for the nation. It highlights the urgent need for a comprehensive overhaul of the sports infrastructure and development system.

Pakistan, with a population of 240 million people, and a median age of 20.6 years, has a wealth of untapped sporting talent waiting to be discovered and nurtured. With the right strategy, investment, and commitment, Pakistan can turn the tide and reclaim its position on the Asian and global sporting stage. The Asian Games 2023 should be a turning point, not an endpoint, in Pakistan’s sporting journey.

– Menin Rodrigues is a sports enthusiast, writer/ author, historian/researcher, and marketing and communications consultant

Another wake-up call