Letting our wrestlers down

April 18, 2021

The government has been ignoring a discipline in which the country has been winning international laurels consistently

Pakistani wrestlers made an attempt to earn Olympics berths in the Asian qualifying round in Almaty the other day but failed. It was a tough event in which the country fielded three grapplers: seasoned Mohammad Inam, Mohammad Bilal and Haroon Abid, in the 97kg, 57kg and 125kg categories, respectively.

Bilal lost his first fight, which was the quarter-final, while Haroon fell in both his fights, the qualification and repechage contest. Inam lost his 97kg quarter-final against a tough grappler of Uzbekistan, who was also the 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist. He was given a repechage bronze medal fight against a player from Kyrgyzstan whom he beat to earn bronze medal. This was the first bronze for Pakistan in any Asian qualifying round.

Inam had developed a knee injury in the first fight against Uzbek and he played his bronze medal fight with that injury which later forced him to stay away from the Asian Championship at the same city. The top two wrestlers from each weight were to qualify for Olympics from the continental qualifiers.

Our wrestlers now have one chance to earn Olympic berths when they compete in the next month’s World Qualifying round in Bulgaria from where the top two in each weight category will progress to the Tokyo Games. Bilal and Haroon will play in the World Qualifying round in Sofia. Inam will not go there, which means that this was the last time that Inam pressed for Olympics seat. He is in the twilight of his career. Yes, he will play in the Commonwealth Games and South Asian Games to be held in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Pakistani wrestlers had missed the 2019 World Championship which was also a qualifying round for Olympics. Pakistan Wrestling Federation (PWF) failed to send its wrestlers there because of financial issues.

For the last three years wrestling was not given any attention by the government. Winning Olympics berths is not a joke. You need standard preparations to get through the qualifiers. Other nations prepare in much better way.

Even for the Asian qualifying round, the government did not offer any help to sponsor a training camp of the wrestlers.

The PWF did a good job despite cash issues to field its wrestlers in the Asian qualifiers. If we see the rest of the world we will find that the governments are the main financiers of their athletes. Here in Pakistan, the government acts against its athletes.

Inam, who has won loads of international medals for Pakistan, failed to play Olympics in his entire career despite having the capability to do so. Who is responsible? It is the state. Had he been in any other country he would have played two or three Olympics.

We must now plan for the future of our young wrestlers who have the potential to win Olympic medals. Besides Bilal and Haroon, who both are young, we have also the Youth Olympics bronze medallist Inayatullah who has the potential to win medals in Olympics in future.

Inayat, a young grappler from Peshawar, was not part of the Asian qualifying round in Almaty because of a ligament injury which he has been nursing for the last eight months.

The government should put wrestling on its priority list as our wrestlers have been consistently winning medals in the international circuit.

The PWF officials say that they have been given no funds by the state for the last three years. The government didn’t even hold any official camp for the wrestlers. It’s not the right way to deal with this sport.

In Pakistan, mostly mud wrestling is played. If we are to win at top levels we will need to provide our wrestlers mat wrestling facilities.

Look at India. It was at Pakistan’s level a decade ago but now it has become a global power in wrestling because its government is vigorously backing the discipline. We should make policies for winning medals in the Olympics, not for winning medals in South Asian Games. If we prepare our athletes for the global targets the rest of the goals on the way will automatically be achieved.

We should plan for the next Olympics now. Pakistan badly needs a national wrestling academy of international standard where young talent could train on a regular basis. We need a professional wrestling league which is the only way to put the discipline on the path of progress.

Because of Covid-19, wrestling arenas in Punjab have been closed and wrestlers are quitting this sport because they have to earn for their families.

People in the sport circle are disappointed with the way sport is being governed by the PTI government. The PSB was run without a permanent Director General for more than two years. It was only a few days ago that a full-time DG, Asif Zaman, was appointed.

Asif, a former squash player, is expected to run the PSB in a different way. I was really surprised with his statement the other day that the PSB would fund the federations on the basis of the last five years’ performances. Can this gentleman tell me what will happen to those disciplines who have a glorious past and now need to be revived?I know the DG has limited powers and he can only spend from the approved budget which cannot meet the pressing demands of modern sports. The PSB will need to boost its budget massively and the IPC minister can play her role provided she took the state’s supremo into confidence before the budget this summer. If we keep insisting that after devolution, the centre cannot spend much on sports then we will never improve our sports. Our whole system is defective.

Let’s start planning differently if we are to compete at the top levels. Let’s stop the culture of sending players to international events without coaches. Let’s start listening to the grievances of our players and note what they need. We should not ignore them. Let’s take things professionally.

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Letting our wrestlers down