It was in 1948 that Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah issued instructions to hold the inaugural edition of the National Games.
It was a difficult early phase for a nascent nation that was created after an unprecedented bloodbath during partition just a year ago. But the Quaid knew the importance of sports. He made sure that Pakistan won’t waste much time in launching the country’s National Games thus creating a platform of the nation’s athletes to showcase their skills and talents. He donated the trophy, which was later known as the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, from his own pocket.
The 1st National Games held in Karachi, then the country’s capital, was a small-scale event.
Fast forward the clock to 2019. From November 9 this year, Peshawar will host the largest ever National Games. The week-long spectacle will feature over 5000 athletes and officials from all over the country.
The 33rd National Games were supposed to take place in October but the authorities were forced to postpone the event because of the so-called Azadi March by the opposition.
Despite being a grand affair, the National Games have yet to catch the public eye. There has been little or no media hype in recent days even though the Games are just a week away.
The News on Sunday interview Lt Gen (retd) Syed Arif Hasan, President Pakistan Olympic Association (POA), about the enormity of the Games and why the masses remain indifferent towards the country’s biggest sporting spectacle. Following are the excerpts.
TNS: How big will be the National Games 2019?
Syed Arif Hasan: These Games lasting for a whole week will be the largest ever held in terms of number. Around 5000 athletes and officials will gather for this mega national event to display their talent in a total of 30 disciplines. Female athletes will feature in 25 disciplines. The participating athletes will be competing for a total of 2546 medals. The magnitude has further increased due to our following the principle of Gender Equality whereby the women participation has increased to 25 Sports, which comes to nearly 80 percent representation of women. Hopefully for the next Games it would be 100 percent.
I also want to highlight that this time we are projecting the use of Sports for Peace, Sports and Environment, for the Anti Drugs Campaign, and for the Promotion of Tourism.
SAH: Tremendous, I would say. The Torch Relay of 33rd National Games has been one of the most successful in the history of Pakistan. This was the first time for the National Games that the Torch visited the whole of Pakistan. We had done this for the 9th SAF Games, but never for the National Games. It started from the Quaid’s Mazar in Karachi, visited Balochistan, Punjab, Islamabad by moving on trains and displaying it at every Railway Station where the train stopped. It went to Azad Kashmir from where it went to Gilgit Baltistan. The Torch was to be handed over to KP at the Babusar Top, one of the most scenic spots in the world. Unfortunately, the pass was closed due to heavy snowfall. However, it was handed over at another beautiful spot of Naran. In KP another first was achieved when the Torch was taken to all the newly merged districts (formerly FATA) of KP. There was continuous media coverage and complete involvement of the local and provincial governments who actively supported and participated in the programme.
TNS: Despite all the efforts made to create a pre-Games hype, National Games have yet to really catch the public eye. What do you think are the reasons behind it?
SAH: The answer lies in our socio-cultural fabric that has not adopted physical fitness and sports as part of our life. Apart from cricket, other sports are generally not encouraged either by the schools or the media. Other sports are totally neglected. Secondly the heroes in other sports are not given due recognition and therefore people do not turn up to see them. A classic example is of Inam Butt, the wrestler who is a world Champion in his weight but has received no recognition in Pakistan. However, we hope the pre-Games hype that has been created will improve the awareness about other sports.
TNS: How to do you plan to raise the stature of the National Games? What steps can be taken to turn them into an event that can generate interest among the general public?
SAH: Many more competitions at the District and Provincial Levels, organised by the local governments culminating in the National Games, which would, then can be termed as the Competitions of Champions.
TNS: There has been a move to include cricket in the Olympic Games. Are there any plans to include the sport in the National Games in the future?
SAH: Once cricket becomes part of the Olympics then it would definitely be included in the National Games. However, it has been included in the Asian Games and we are considering its inclusion in the National Games. We will be discussing this with the PCB after the Games.
TNS: How has been the response of the local authorities and government in KP regarding the hosting of the Games?
SAH: This is the first time that POA and the Provincial Government have worked so closely together for the successful hosting of the National Games. Mr. Atif Khan, Senior Minister, Government of KP and the Directorate General of Sports KP have provided all the possible resources for the successful conduct of the Games. The coordination and harmony between the Olympic Association of KP, POA and the Government of KP is remarkable.
Khalid Hussain is Editor Sports of The News