Can we fix our sports?

October 5, 2014

For years, Pakistan have tried and failed at international sporting events like the Olympics and Asian Games. Nothing has worked. Nothing will, unless our sports administrators either change their game plan or are shown the door. But will that ever happen?

Can we fix our sports?

The phoenix of Pakistan sports has burnt for too long. But sadly, there are little or no signs that it would ever emerge from the ashes of failure.

What happened in Incheon should be enough to remind us, yet again, that things are only going from bad to worse for Pakistan sports. Only one gold medal and that too in women’s cricket - an event that recently became a part of the Asian Games -- underlines the fact that Pakistan’s sporting fortunes have really taken a nosedive. China rode roughshod over their rivals and in the process won almost 150 gold medals. South Korea, Japan and even Kazakhstan and Iran were among the other prominent nations at Asiad 2014.

Dogged by poor planning and infighting within its sports community, Pakistan were never in contention for a top-ten spot in the Games. But a meagre tally of five medals (that included one silver in hockey and three bronze medals) is such a dismal performance that it cannot be ignored.

Leaving aside, our women cricketers who successfully defended their Asian Games crown, Pakistan mostly fired blanks in Incheon. Our hockey team did reach the final but was unable to retain the title, falling to old foes India in the finale. The worst showing for Pakistan came in squash as their men’s team, regarded as hot favourites to defend the gold, failed to even reach the last four.

Pakistan did manage to win a boxing bronze through Quetta’s Muhammad Waseem but overall their pugilists flopped in the Games. There was a time when boxers like Hussain Shah and Abrar Hussain ruled Asian boxing. Today, we are happy even with a single bronze medal in a discipline that has helped us win more medals than any other sport in the Asian Games.

Then there was a pleasant surprise when Maratab Ali won a wushu bronze for Pakistan in the first week of the Games. But apart from that, it was the same old story for Pakistani athletes: they featured in the Asiad as also-rans. As a result, Pakistan ended in the wrong half of the medals’ table even behind sporting minnows like Kuwait, Brunei, Singapore and Vietnam.

The Asian Games 2014 provided great nations like China and hosts South Korea with a perfect platform to show off their sporting prowess. But it also underlined the vast gap between these powerhouses and minnows like Pakistan, who seem to be light years behind the top achievers.

For years, Pakistan have tried and failed at international sporting events like the Olympics and Asian Games. Nothing has worked. Nothing will, unless our sports administrators either change their game plan or are shown the door.

So who are our sports administrators?

Well, we have the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), by far the richest sports body in the country. But PCB has precious little to do when it comes to multi-sport events like the Olympics or Asian Games. Cricket is not a part of the Olympics and though it is a recent inductee to the Asian Games, major cricket-playing nations of the continent aren’t too interested in competing in it. That’s the reason why Asian giants Pakistan and India didn’t even feature in the men’s event of the Incheon Games. The women’s event also didn’t include a few top teams and eventually Pakistan retained the gold medal.

The main players when it comes to events like the Asiad are the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB), Pakistan Olympic Association (POA), Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF), Pakistan Boxing Federation (PBF) and a few other national sports federations. All of these organisations have failed to do their job, resulting in yet another sporting debacle for the country.

One of the biggest villains of the piece is the PSB. Entrusted with the job to develop sports in Pakistan, PSB was formed back in 1962. Having been there for over five decades and having spent hundreds of millions of rupees, the Board has precious little to show in its column of achievements. Run by bureaucrats, with little or no knowledge of sports, PSB has caused more harm than good to Pakistan sports. In recent times, the Board has engaged itself in an ugly battle for power with the POA and hence played a role in further destruction of our sports.

But PSB’s negative role doesn’t absolve its main rival POA of its share of the blame. Established back in 1948, POA has failed to play a significant role in the promotion of sports in Pakistan. For years, it was governed by joy-riders who were there to enjoy the perks and privileges that came from being a part of the international Olympic family.

Next on the list is the PHF, a body that has wasted vast amounts of tax-payers money on training camps and foreign tours in recent years. It has failed to bring any worthwhile improvement in Pakistan hockey. In recent times, Pakistan have gone through the ignominy of taking the World Cup wooden spoon (in 2010) and even failing to qualify for the quadrennial spectacle (2014).

Similar is the case of the PSF. Run by Pakistan Air Force officers, the PSF has over the years made tall claims about the revival of Pakistan squash. But it’s mostly been a case of mere lip service. In Incheon, Pakistan’s fancied squash team even failed to reach the semi-finals.

Though there are other factors like lack of long-term support, it’s clear that Pakistan’s sports officialdom is primarily responsible for this vicious cycle of failure. Our administrators spend more time and energy on fighting with each other to wrest control of the various federations and associations. Once they manage to take control, they either lack the will or the credentials to achieve anything substantial for Pakistan sports.

So how do we fix it?

We can’t, at least not till the time that our sports chiefs acknowledge failure and take responsibility for it. But from where I see it, that is not going to happen at least not voluntarily. In our existing system, there is little room for positive change. Losing has become a habit for us and we are unwilling to do anything about it. Our place among Asian nations in Incheon was shameful. But the way things are going, even a meagre tally of five Asian Games medals will look like a successful outing for Pakistan in the future.

Can we fix our sports?