A Herculean challenge

December 1, 2019

Can our athletes do something special with the little support they got from the authorities to prepare for the forthcoming South Asian Games in Nepal?

A 305-member state-sponsored contingent of Pakistan is set to feature in the 13th South Asian Games which will explode into action on Sunday (today) with the opening ceremony to be held at Kathmandu. The event, postponed several times, is being organised in Kathmandu and Pokhara from December 1-10.

By the time this piece was written, Pakistan had begun their volleyball journey with a straight-set victory over the Maldives in their Group B match on Thursday. Sri Lanka are the third team in the group. India, Bangladesh and Nepal are in Group A.

According to a source, Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) managed to avert embarrassment for Pakistan when it arranged accommodation for the volleyball team — Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) had failed to deposit accommodation fee with the organisers.

Wushu squad also proceeded to Kathmandu last Wednesday and others were preparing to fly out of Islamabad.

Unlike in the past this time a big lack of coordination was seen among POA, PSB and national federations.

The PSB finalised the contingent without consulting POA and national federations.

Golf and archery were excluded from the list by the PSB. The POA officials, some swimmers, a 17-member fencing squad and taekwondo fighters were scheduled to proceed by meeting their own expenses. If self-sponsored athletes and officials are included, Pakistan have a 350-member contingent, competing in 20 disciplines.

The disciplines are: athletics, badminton, boxing, handball, kabaddi, squash, swimming, table tennis, taekwondo, tennis, volleyball (beach), weightlifting, cycling, karate, wrestling, wushu, judo, volleyball, shooting and fencing.

Pakistan could not get its football entry because the country had sent by name entry to the organisers only on November 28. India was also denied entry because of the same reason.

The big issue this time was that everything was done abruptly. No plan was seen this time to prepare the athletes properly as the government did not cooperate at any level with the sports governing bodies.

No camps were held unlike in the past when preparations used to be started at least six months before the Games.

After the 33rd National Games held in Peshawar from November 10-16, the PSB told the federations that they would themselves manage food facility for their athletes during a few days camp that it organised. However, when federations refused, the Board did arrange diet facilities.

Because of the Board’s restructuring process, the government hasn’t worked properly for sports development since the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) came into power.

Most of the athletes remained idle after the 18th Asian Games held in Indonesia last year. Pakistan’s Olympics bid was also badly damaged by this lack of planning and financial support from the state.

The only advantage the players got ahead of the SAG was that various departments held camps for National Games for a few months which prepared them to some extent.

But a big disadvantage was that hardly two weeks after the National Games, SAG were scheduled to begin.

As India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh are well prepared, Pakistani athletes may face a big issue in winning gold medals.

Pakistan’s performance in the 2016 South Asian Games was the biggest disappointment. It is the second largest country in the region and has always struggled for parity with India. Since the inception of the South Asian Games, Pakistan has won 13 percent of the total gold medals in contention, which is well-balanced with its 12 percent share in the region’s population.

But the nation showed a steady decline in its performance after 2004 in the biennial spectacle. Pakistan managed only 12 gold medals in 2016 — a mere five percent, much lower than 22 percent in 2004, 20 percent in 2006, and 12 percent in 2010.

Despite all issues and lack of proper preparations it is expected that the country’s leading players would be able to win gold medals for the nation.

Those who are expected to claim titles include the country’s premier wrestler Mohammad Inam, a two-time world beach wrestling champion; former Asian gold medalist karateka Saadi Abbas; Olympian judoka Shah Hussain, Amina Toyoda and Qaiser Khan; javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem; the 2018 Asian Games bronze medallist karateka Nargis Hazara; promising taekwondo fighter and Olympics prospect Haroon Khan; the country’s leading wushu fighter Maaz Khan; and promising young weightlifters Talha Talib and Nooh Dastgir Butt.

Pakistan’s women athletes may also pull off some surprising results as they gave stunning performances in the National Games.

We have a very good chance of a few titles in shooting. Pakistan can pull off a few surprises in swimming. Pakistan is sure to play final in men’s kabaddi. Due to deteriorating standard of boxing we may face big issue in this discipline in which the country once had a strong standing in Asia.

In men’s volleyball, Pakistan may play the final and even can win gold keeping in view the country’s performances against India in the last year’s Asian Games in Indonesia and this year’s Asian Championships in Iran.

We can also reach the final of the handball competition. Pakistan can also do well in squash.

In a nutshell, this is indeed a challenging spectacle for Pakistan and it will be interesting to see how effective the country’s performance will be with such lack of preparation.

Meanwhile, the country’s seasoned wrestler Mohammad Inam was an automatic choice for acting as the flag-bearer of Pakistan during the opening ceremony but as the wrestling squad will be proceeding on December 3 it is more likely that the country’s top karateka Saadi Abbas will carry the flag.

Good luck Pakistan.

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Pakistan in South Asian Games: A Herculean challenge