Lack of funds, financial insecurity, absence of ready and easy access to modern sports and gym facilities, and dearth of any worthy training sessions and quality trainers have all contributed to the overall downfall of sports in Pakistan
Dismal performances at the Olympics and in other international events have become characteristic of Pakistani athletes over the last few decades. The gap that existed back in the 1990s has widened so much that there is hardly any worthwhile performance from our country while other countries have made great progress.
With lack of substantial support by governments and the sport bodies, corruption-infested management, and indifferent approach and nepotism in selection, hardly anything can be expected from our athletes.
Lack of funds, financial insecurity, absence of ready and easy access to modern sports and gym facilities, and dearth of any worthy training sessions and quality trainers have all contributed to the overall downfall of sports in Pakistan.
In a country, where elections have been fought on the slogan of roti, kapra aur makan (bread, clothing, and shelter) for half a century and where votes are sought on the promise of saaf paani (clean drinking water), one can understand the priorities of authorities.
Cricket has been an exception, probably because of the abundance of talent but more likely due to the promise of great financial security.
Hockey has suffered the most by the hands of those who claim it to be their national game! The last Champions Trophy tournament had almost nothing to talk about for any proud Pakistani in comparison to when the event first began in 1978 - the first tournament was held at Lahore, mostly due to the efforts of Pakistan!
The last edition was played in Holland. Gone are the days when Pakistan would automatically qualify for such events because of their ranking. We are now specially invited only because of our glorious past and our services to the game. Sadly, our performance there said it all, and it seemed like Pakistan was drafted in because it was the last edition of Champions Trophy.
The Rio Olympics was the first time that Pakistan failed to even qualify for the mega event. It was the same for the Tokyo Olympics.
The 2018 general elections provided the nation with a new precedent - a sportsman as the premier of the country! It instilled hope in the otherwise dejected and disheartened sports lovers of Pakistan. With Imran Khan at the helm of affairs, we as a nation have every right to expect much better sports facilities for our youngsters.
In 1994, Pakistani nation was proud to be World Champions in four sports. We ruled hockey, cricket, squash and snooker. Since then, we have achieved nothing substantial apart from an unpredictable tournament win or two or a sporadic unconvincing qualification for some regional games or a random medal at a continental tournament.
There was a time when we would yawn hearing the headline news of a certain Khan from Pakistan winning a British Open Squash Championship defeating another Khan of Pakistan or Pakistan hockey team treating the likes of Holland and Germany as minnows. We were the standard setters for others. It was such a norm to hear these news headlines. Everyone was an expert back then, discussing skills, tactics, strategies and faults in the coaching and game of our players in different sports and that of the opponents with complete knowledge of the game.
And now we are hoping against hope for something good to happen. Overnight changes are never expected in any field, and sports is no different.
But we can hope for good decisions to give the much needed direction to improve the overall quality of games, especially when it comes to the team games where individual brilliance seldom covers up for the whole team’s performance.
Direction from the top is much needed. It is the best possible time for us to start preparing with 5-, 10- and 20-year programmes. We can harness and groom talent to make our athletes world beaters in upcoming years.
Instead of finding a whole bunch of players to form an entire football or rugby team with their alternative bench strength to replace them if needed, the focus should be on individual games like walking (yes walking), shooting, equestrian, and archery.
Some effort and sponsorship in such sports can go a long way and we may start producing results within 5 to 10 years. If only the will is there, who knows we might be there on the Olympics podium with heads held high and our hearts beating and pounding to the beautiful tune of our national anthem.
Hoping for a medal at Tokyo Olympics may be far-fetched, but with resolve and forceful application of the strategic brains of the country, we may chalk out a plan to increase our direct qualification for continental games and our chances of landing a medal.
We may see the Pakistani flag standing tall among others with an enthusiastic, patriotic athlete singing the Pakistani anthem on the Olympic medal podium along with 220 million Pakistani back home.
The writer is a physician, health care leader and a traveller. He tweets @Ali_Shahid82