Pakistan Sports and Heroes

January 9, 2022

Eminent Sports journalist Muhammad Ali has produced a comprehensive book that documents the rise and fall of Pakistan sports during the last 75 years

Pakistan Sports and Heroes

Muhammad Ali has almost 30 years of experience as a top notch sports journalist. He has travelled around the world for mega sporting events like the Olympic Games and the Cricket World Cup. He has rubbed shoulders with legendary sports personalities like Jahangir Khan, Wasim Akram, Brig M.H Atif. Its a long list.In short, he is just the right man to edit and compile 'Pakistan Sports and Heroes' -- a comprehensive book which documents the rise and fall of sports in our country in a manner that has seldom been done in the past.

Currently working as Editor Sports in a leading national English daily, Ali believes that the 393-page book is "an acknowledgment that in the twentieth century Pakistan made notable contributions to modern sports in the world."

"One of the reasons for producing this book is to inspire the current lot of youngsters who are engaged in gadgets and only know cricket and nothing else," he says.

"I always intended to relive the brilliance and the sparkle the sportsmen in green displayed by individually profiling the path-breaking heroes and the ones who filled their oversized shoes till times most recent. This book is not only a celebration of Pakistan sports but also recounts what a cornucopia of talent has emerged from this nation since independence."

It truly is. 'Pakistan Sports and Heroes' tells us about legendary sports administrators like Brigadier CHB Rodham, the man who put Pakistan sports on the world map. There are also complete chapters about Air Marshal Nur Khan, the man who tranformed Pakistan sports and Brig MH Atif, an Olympic champion who was instrumental in Pakistan hockey's golden era. For those who are not aware about the immense contributions made by Professor Anwar Chowdhry are told how he single-handedly made Pakistan a force to reckon with in boxing as President of the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA).

Even more interesting are the chapters on a long list of sporting icons of the past. From Abdul Khaliq, once the fastest man in Asia to Ghulam Raziq, Sharif Butt and Allah Ditta, this book documents the achievements of our sporting champions through indepth and well-researched articles.

The timing of 'Pakistan Sports and Heroes' couldnt have been better. This year Pakistan is celebrating its 75th year of independence. This book not just celebrates our golden era but also takes a detailed look on the reasons behind the decline of Pakistan sports.

Below are some excerpts from the chapter 'The Plight of Pakistan Sports at 75:

"When Pakistan emerged on the map of the world on 15th August 1947, its athletes soon started showing their muscles in the Asian and world arenas. Sports, perhaps, became the only bearer of good news in Pakistan. Starting from the early years, the likes of Abdul Khaliq in athletics, squash legend Hashim Khan, cricketers and hockey players gave the country an identity at the international level. Olympic conquests, World Cup-winning triumphs in hockey, cricket, squash and even snooker, Pakistan almost always punched above its weight in the field of sports. Between 1982 and 1997, first Jahangir Khan and then Jansher Khan won every British Open, the premier squash tournament in the world. Pakistan in squash, the toughest of racket games, looked invincible.

There was a time when Pakistan hockey held all the major titles and remained up in the clouds for more than three decades. Pakistan won the Classic Triple in hockey -- simultaneous holders of the Asian Games, World Cup and Olympic titles. They accomplished this feat twice. In 1971, Pakistan won the World Cup in Barcelona, after having won the 1970 Asian Games title in Bangkok, and the Olympic title in Mexico City in 1968. In 1984, Pakistan once again accomplished the Classic Triple when they defeated Germany in the final to win the 1984 Olympic hockey gold at Los Angeles. In 1982, they had won the Asian Games title in New Delhi, as well as the World Cup in Mumbai earlier that year. Pakistan are the only Asian team to win the FIH Champions Trophy thrice -- they won in 1978 (Lahore), 1980 (Karachi) and 1994 (Lahore). Pakistan won the World Cup four times --- 1971 (Barcelona), 1978 (Buenos Aires), 1982 (Mumbai) and 1994 (Sydney).

But the last two decades have been a different story altogether. Pakistan won their last Olympic medal at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, Cricket World Cup in 1992, Hockey World Cup in 1994 and World Snooker Championship in 1994. There have been successes like the 2009 World Twenty20 title, IBSF World Snooker Championship crown in 2012 and 2019 and ICC Champions Trophy triumph in 2017, but such victories have been few and far between. Over the years, not one, not two but almost all sports have experienced a sharp slump in our country. It goes beyond misfortune and carelessness and instead appears to be a trend. Since 1997, five years after the country's last Olympic medal in any sport, Pakistan's superiority in squash is no more. Like the Olympics and hockey, squash has nothing to showcase since the 1990s. The older generation still talks and recall with great delight the spellbinding achievements of the past while the present generation only has tales of the past to live on. Despite all this, Pakistanis love sports.

Anybody outside the country who spent time watching the last two Olympic Games -- Tokyo 2020 in Japan and Rio 2016 in Brazil--- might not realise that sports are played in Pakistan. At the Tokyo Olympic Games 2020, held in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pakistan Olympic Association had sent ten athletes. A nation of 220 million was represented by just ten sportspersons. The 10 comprised seven men and three women, competing in athletics, badminton, judo, shooting, swimming, and weightlifting. Before that, at the Rio Olympic Games 2016, Pakistan had its smallest-ever contingent: just seven athletes. Since 1948, hockey had been Pakistan's main hope for an Olympic medal. The hockey squad always formed a major part of Pakistan's Olympic contingent. It is lamentable that Pakistan hockey is not the same force that it used to be, and failed to qualify for two consecutive Olympic Games: Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020. Pakistan hockey, which inspired millions around the globe, last won an Olympic medal in 1992 Barcelona. Pakistan failed to win a medal of any colour at the Tokyo Olympics. It is sad that Tokyo 2020 was no different from Rio 2016, London 2012, Beijing 2008 or any of the preceding Olympics going back to Atlanta 1996, with Pakistan returning empty-handed from each of the last seven Olympic Games. The sum total of Pakistan's Olympics achievement since 1947 is ten medals. Eight in hockey, including three golds, one each in wrestling and boxing. Pakistan haven't won a medal for 29 years. The fact is that Pakistan continues to nosedive further as time passes and one isn't even sure if we have hit our lowest point yet.

Currently, it is a struggle largely due to bad governance. Therefore, elimination of political influence from sports is as important as improving health, education and various other sectors. Pakistan has a Sports Ministry, better known as the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB). After the devolution of the PSB in 2011, the administrative control of the PSB was transferred to the Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination. But the PSB, along with the IPC Ministry, is still running the show and the devolution of sports to provinces has been nothing less than a great farce. It is interesting to note that the PSB was embroiled in conflict from 2012 to 2016 with the Pakistan Olympic Association, which meant that rather than focusing on the provision of requisite facilities and infrastructure for the athletes, energy was spent on scheming for power and clout locally and internationally.

Pakistan Sports and Heroes

The reasons for sports decline in Pakistan are numerous. While cricket remains hugely popular, all other sports have seen a big deterioration in the past two decades. The main being the government paying almost no attention to nurturing talented players and providing them sporting facilities and guidance. Perhaps the biggest cause for the extraordinary decline in sports in Pakistan is lack of funding and vision. In the beginning it seems that sporting success for Pakistan was heaven-sent. A country with little or no sporting infrastructure quickly rose as a force to be reckoned with in a variety of sports and that too at the Asian as well as world level. Almost all of the top national sportsmen were, more or less, self-made. Their success made us over-confident to the point that we thought it was our birthright to excel at the world level. That is one of the reasons why we failed to develop a single world-class sports academy despite the fact that Pakistan considers itself to be a sports-mad nation.

The 1992 World Cup victory in Australia opened the floodgates of limited overs cricket and money started flowing into cricket. In games other than cricket, unless an individual tackles all the impediments and becomes successful on his/her own strength, he/she doesn't get any recognition. This is a major drawback in Pakistan sports. Examples can be given of our tennis, boxing and wrestling stars Aisamul Haq Qureshi, Mohammad Waseem and Muhammad Inam Butt. We have also failed to understand the fact that over the years sports have advanced to a different level in developed countries of the world. The rules of the games have changed tremendously. In the past, sports were an art, today they are pure science. Today we are trying to win a war with bows and arrows while many of our opponents are equipped with the latest gadgetry.

Most importantly, we have ignored the mother of all sports -- athletics. We follow cricket, cricket and more cricket. But we have ignored athletics at our own peril. Without producing fit and fast athletes we cannot excel in many of the sports we love and that includes cricket. Athletics is one sporting discipline not requiring large resources. Poor countries like Kenya and Ethiopia are major powers in distance running. In Kenya, in the 1960s, the European priests were amazed to observe that the local children daily walked and ran miles on hills to reach their school. They thought about utilising this immense stamina of poor kids into something beneficial. Hence, they devised the plan to groom these kids as long distance runners. The rest is history: Kenya has been the dominating force in races from 800 metres to the marathon for more than four decades. It won't be a far-fetched dream to see the Kenyan success story replicated in Pakistan. All that is required is concerted efforts in the areas of identifying the talent and then putting it through proper training and suitable competition. The task is difficult but not impossible.What more depressing is that sports activities in schools, colleges and universities have touched an all-time low because of diminishing sports fields, poor systems and lack of interest in sports by young generation that have many other options to keep them occupied. But perhaps the worst aspect of this development is that educational administrators no longer feel that sports are an integral part of all decent educational systems. Some even think it is a waste of time. This is one of the main reasons why student representation in our national sports teams is becoming negligible compared to the past when most of our national teams thrived on student and university representation. This particular flaw in our educational system is one of the major causes of intolerance in our society.

It is lamentable is that Pakistan's sports budget is the lowest in South Asia, less than that of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Government officials and private sector are not interested in investing in anything other than cricket. In dilapidated gyms and crumbling sports fields, Pakistan athletes lament the outdated equipment and obsolete training methods, which leave them struggling against foreign competitors who adhere to latest science-based techniques. The national sports federations cannot afford to hire good coaches who are familiar with modern training techniques. Our athletes are truly frustrated because mostly coaches are not literate, and they have been teaching what they taught 30 to 40 years back. Without infrastructure a lot can be done, but without techniques no one can win.

Governments all over the world keep sports and education as their top priority, build infrastructure, hold talent development programmes for players and promote medical sciences in sports to compete in the world of sports. India spend billions of dollars on sports, but in Pakistan it is totally opposite because sports are not our priority. Patronising only cricket and ignoring other sports is very unfair. Cricket does not have the kind of global competition that others sports have as its playing is limited to a handful of largely Commonwealth countries.

At the same time, both in the national sphere and sporting arena, the root of our dilemma is the notorious system of patronage and imposed cronies, to the exclusion of merit and professionalism. Under the powerful patron's benevolent gaze, the pick and choose appointees can survive scandals and failures that would crush an ordinary mortal. To rise from nothing, against all adversity, and reach the pinnacle, that is a dream that is as powerful today as it has ever been. More than any other sporting occasion, the Olympics denote a country's progress or the lack of it. Olympians are marked by their heroics, their endeavor and their struggle against the odds. Pakistan has no Olympian of note for our present generation.

Modern sports structures all over the world have sports institutions as integral components of their systems. Even Bangladesh has one. It is unfortunate that after 75 years we have not been able to establish one. There are a variety of reasons for this vital missing link in our sports. People at the helm of affairs either do not realise the importance of this institution or hesitate simply because they do not know how to go about it. Sports are neither a burden on national economy nor an impediment to development, but an engine for economy and development and means to strengthen the socio-economic order. It is indeed a force multiplier to strengthen the federation and promote peace and harmony among provinces. In this fast changing milieu, Pakistan needs to take a fresh start with a new, realistic and scientific sports narrative that may lead to a comprehensive sports policy and develop Pakistan as a powerhouse of sports. Pakistan sports desperately need qualified human resource in terms of coaches, trainers, physios, sports psychologists, administrators, sport medicines experts, and referees. The dismal state of sports affairs of the country should be a wake-up call for the government, and the sporting authorities."

'Pakistan Sports and Heroes' is a detailed document on Pakistan sports. It is certainly a great addition to the small list of quality books on Pakistan sports. It's a collectors item and a must-have for readers with a special interest in sports.

Khalid Hussain is Editor Sports of The News

Pakistan Sports and Heroes