Government apathy hurting top athletes

May 16, 2021

Unless our authorities start following a professional approach we will not progress in sports

Why do we play with the careers of our athletes? Our land is fertile, having created several world beaters over the years in various sports disciplines. If we look deep into their careers we will find a huge struggle on their part with least state support.It gives me immense pain when I see our top seeds frustrated when they are unable to qualify for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

The other day Pakistani wrestlers’ Olympic journey ended as they could not achieve an Olympics seat, losing in the World Qualifying round in Bulgaria.

Pakistan had fielded Mohammad Bilal (57 kg) and Haroon Abid (97 kg). Haroon, nephew of Jhara pahalwan, faltered at the first hurdle. Bilal fell at the second hurdle to a grappler of Azerbaijan after beating a wrestler of Moldova in the first round.

When I called Bilal he was very sad. Haroon being young in the international circuit, it was Bilal who was Pakistan’s sole Olympics hope. And it was natural that he was sad after failing to book a seat for the Tokyo Games.

Bilal said: “It’s part of the game”. He credited Pakistan Wrestling Federation (PWF) for the support it extended to them and ensured their presence in both the Asian and World Olympic Games Qualifiers.

He said if there had been state’s support they would have a solid chance of qualifying for the Olympics.

Pakistan had also tried seasoned Mohammad Inam in the Asian Qualifiers in Almaty last month but he also had failed to achieve a seat. Yes, he was able to earn a bronze in that event after getting a repechage bronze medal fight.

Still I will give credit to the wrestlers as they fought well because they trained on their own in their own wrestling arenas. How can they qualify if they go to the qualifiers without being trained well, without getting a good diet and without getting good coaching?

During the twin qualifiers and the Asian Championship between them, our wrestlers were able to beat some tough opponents and it’s a plus point.

National wrestlers have not got a camp during the PTI regime and one can imagine how we treat our sports and our leading players.

Now we come to karateka Saadi Abbas. He is an Olympic aspirant. In order to fulfil his dreams he has settled in Dubai, a place where he can work, earn some money to support himself and his family and pursue his dreams in sports.

Realistically speaking his Olympics chances are now not that high. After having failed to make it to the Olympics through Olympic standings procedure he has now only a single opportunity - through the World Qualifiers to be held in Paris in June. The top three in each weight will make it to the Olympics.

Saadi’s big issue is that he is fighting all alone, without a coach and with no big training resources. His IOC scholarship is not that huge which could provide him support to meet his back-up requirements.

We have left this fighter to try for the Olympics seat all alone. Due to his personal efforts he is now in Kazakhstan where he is undergoing training alongside world’s top fighters.

He will fly back to Dubai on May 17 to arrange for himself a France visa for the World Qualifiers. If he qualifies then we all will try to get credit but now when he is struggling nobody bothers. Who is responsible?

This fighter has not been treated well during his 15-year-long journey and was least supported.

The country’s premier equestrian Usman Khan lives in Australia. In November 2019 he, through his now dead horse Azad Kashmir, qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, a target which he achieved after a 15-year self-sponsored long struggle. When AK died, he was forced to resume his Olympic journey afresh with a new horse. He faced big issues in getting a horse as horses are very expensive. He requested the IPC ministry and the PSB to help him purchase a new horse but so far he has not been extended any help.

Usman’s Olympics fate is uncertain following the outcome of the qualifying event in Sydney where he finished 15th. He is trying to get another qualifier before the June 23 deadline.

It happened because he has had no choice but to use a single horse during Olympic qualifiers. Had he possessed a back-up horse he could have retained his seat quite comfortably. Although he lives in Australia, he represents Pakistan and Pakistan government should have supported him. He is such a talented equestrian that he can do anything if he is backed.

Our government wastes time on policy-making. There is no need for any policy unless it is followed. It was time for our state to facilitate our athletes who aimed to make a cut for the Olympics.

It is clear that we again will field with a minor contingent in the Tokyo Games.

So far shooters Ghulam Mustafa Bashir and Khalil Akhtar and javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem have qualified for the Olympics. Arshad was recently sent to Turkey for training under the World Athletics coach Viktor. He stayed for 20 days in Antalya. He faced language issues as Viktor doesn’t know English. He had no physiotherapist with him. He felt elbow pain and there was no one to treat him.

When will we change this approach? Unless we follow a professional approach we will not progress in sports. Our policies and strategies lack clarity.

The PSB should have established a bio-secure Olympic camp in Islamabad for all those athletes who were preparing either for Olympics or for featuring in the qualifiers or were to feature in the Olympics on the basis of wild cards.

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Government apathy hurting top athletes