As has been the case, Army and WAPDA reigned supreme at the National Games in Peshawar
After a long, patient wait, eventually, the 33rd National Games were organised by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which has the second best infrastructure after the Pakistan Sports Complex in Islamabad.
Initially, the biennial spectacle had been allotted to Balochistan in 2012 but Quetta failed to organise the country’s most important competitions because of security and financial issues. Balochistan officials could not manage the things rightly and failed to prepare infrastructure although the government had approved a hefty amount of Rs800 millions.
Following several postponements, finally, Pakistan Olypmic Association (POA) shifted the Games to KP and the province did a fine job by organising the competitions in time. Although the Games were postponed for a couple of weeks because of the JUI-F protest in Islamabad, it did not affect the event in any other way. Heads of several major departments said that frequent postponements cost them a lot of money. They held training camps, spent millions on their athletes’ preparations, but the postponements often meant all that went to the drain. In future the POA should penalise those units which are unable to organise the Games in time. Seven years were wasted in which two National Games could have been organised.
It would be not be right to ignore the services of Syed Aqil Shah, the head of the KP Olympic Association. He did a fine job, brought everyone together, got their confidence, resolved pressing issues and along with the KP Senior Minister Atif Khan and Chief Minister Mehmood Khan, undertook the difficult task in such a short time, which is praiseworthy.
It would have been difficult to organise the Games for KP in such a short time if it did not have such a solid infrastructure. Qayyum Sports Complex hosted majority of the events. The newly-built Hayatabad Sports Complex also hosted a few events and everyone lauded the facilities. Some events were also held in Charsadda, Mardan, Abbottabad, Jhelum, Islamabad and Karachi.
The athletes did not face any major problems, but still there were some issues. At some facilities the lavatory system was not good, venues were not renovated and lighting system in most of the halls was poor. A huge amount was spent on building the infrastructure which is amazing but minor issues dented its effectiveness.
The opening ceremony could have been organised better.
The Games’ website was not properly handled throughout the Games. It is the biggest event of Pakistan. At least some of the events should have been live-streamed.
Tight security arrangements had been made but the security was not that thick as had been witnessed in 2010 National Games, a time when Peshawar was passing through the toughest period of its history because of terrorism. The event improved the soft image of KP and it may in future even organise international cricket. Athletes were seen in various bazaars and the environment was peaceful. But the general public did not enjoy the Games as entry was highly restricted because of security concerns.
As many as 14 units of the POA took part in the competitions but the top players of the non-registered departments represented their provinces. The Games would also help Pakistan to field its best lot in the 13th South Asian Games slated to be held in Nepal from December 1-10.
As many as 6875 athletes and officials and 247 contingent officials were part of the week-long extravaganza. The players’ strength was 5000. The services of 996 technical officials were hired to conduct the competitions. Men competed in 32 disciplines while women showed their worth in 26. The strength of men’s events was 211, while there were 138 women’s events. There were a total of 854 gold medals up for grabs besides 854 silver and 1050 bronze medals.
The country’s sports powerhouses Army and WAPDA had the biggest contingents of 925 members each, which included players, officials and contingent officials. KP consisted of 750 athletes and officials and 15 contingent officials. The strength of the other units was: HEC (700 players and officials, 25 contingent officials), Sindh (450 players and officials +15 contingent officials), Punjab (450+15), Balochistan (450+15), PAF (400+25), Navy (400+25), Police (500+25), Railways (500+25), Islamabad (175+6), Gilgit-Baltistan (150+6) and AJK (150+6).
When this piece was being written, Army were heading the medals chart and were poised to win the Quad-e-Azam Trophy.
Athletics was filled with records as nine records were smashed, with women breaking six and men smashing three. WAPDA’s Najma Parveen, an Olympian, did a splendid job by winning six golds in which three were national records, in 200m, 400m and 400m hurdles.
Ghazala Sardar of WAPDA set record in 100m hurdles. Sidra Bashir of Army set one in pole vault, while Maria Maratab of Army smashed the heptathlon record. The country’s premier javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem of WAPDA set a new national record with a stunning throw of 83.65 metre. Sprinter Uzair-ur-Rehman of Army smashed a record in 200m by clocking 21.06 and in 20km walk race Army’s Faizan set a record by clocking 1:46.12.
Army won men’s athletics with 14 gold, 15 silver and seven bronze medals. WAPDA were the runners-up with eight gold, five silvers and nine bronze medals. Olympian Mehboob Ali of Army sizzled by winning three golds, in 400m, 400m hurdles, 4x400m relay and a silver in 200m.
WAPDA, meanwhile, won the women’s athletics competitions by winning 14 gold, 13 silver and three bronze. Army finished second with six gold, seven silvers and 12 bronze.
In swimming Army ruled in both men’s and women’s sections. In men’s section Army topped the medal race with 20 gold, ten silver and four bronze. WAPDA trailed second with eight silver and seven bronze. Sindh got one silver and five bronze and Punjab took one silver and four bronze.
Haseeb Tariq of Army, who early this year featured in the World Swimming Championships in Korea, was declared the best swimmer as he picked seven golds (four individual and three in relays). Mohammad Mustafa of Army created a new national record in 200m breaststroke by clocking 2:31.23.
In women’s swimming, too, Army reigned supreme, bagging 14 gold, three silver and four bronze. WAPDA finished second with five gold, 12 silver and five bronze. Sindh ended third with four silver and five bronze medals. Islamabad got two bronze while Navy and Punjab secured one bronze each. Olympian Kiran Khan and her younger sister Bisma won ten golds each (both five individual and five in relays).
In boxing a poor standard was seen as no big upset was witnessed. Youngsters were not seen and the provinces, especially, had fielded mature boxers which means that boxing has almost been buried. Boxing has been a major sport of the country particularly in Asia and the PBF will have to do hectic work to resurrect it.
Hockey’s decline was evident and everybody felt that the standard was too low and the sport needs a big push at the provincial level.
KP men’s volleyball team gave tough time to departments which was encouraging.
Wrestling in which WAPDA won nine golds seemed to be the most lively discipline. Some highly talented young grapplers from Higher Education Commission (HEC) beat national champions and wrestlers who have been playing in the national circuit for around a decade.
The country’s major athletes including javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem, highly experienced karateka and 2020 Tokyo Olympics prospect Saadi Abbas, Japan-based Olympian judoka Shah Hussain, word beach wrestling champion Mohammad Inam, highly talented weightlifter Talha Talib and Japan-based judoka Amina Toyoda won their respective titles with enviable ease.
National Games offer a real platform to the country’s top athletes to express themselves in an environment of affection and love. The Games are very important and must be held regularly. After devolution of sports it is for provinces to organise such Games. If there is a will there is a way. Let’s pledge that we will change our whole attitude towards organising the Games in future. Let’s pledge that we will organise these Games according to international standard by also involving volunteers so that we could make a practice for holding international multi-sports extravaganzas. We should not repeat the mistakes we made this time. In future, the provinces should be given at least a couple of months camps so that their athletes could express themselves in the best possible way.