So the locked gates to international cricket are now open in Pakistan. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) must be feeling great after successfully holding their first international series in 6 years. But is cricket the only sport played in the country? Sadly the answer is no and even in the days of wilderness, Pakistan Billiards and Snooker Association had been holding tournaments at home, featuring International players. We must look beyond cricket for resumption of sports in Pakistan; the more sports, the merrier!
Tennis: Aisam-ul-Haq’s ascent in the last 10 years has been a boost to many tennis enthusiasts in Pakistan. Every tennis player dreams to qualify for a Grand Slam – Aisam has reached the final of US Open (twice in a year) as well as qualified for the four tournaments repeatedly. His fans have increased a lot since his memorable speech at the Arthur Ashe Stadium where he made every Pakistani teary-eyed by declaring that ‘we are a peace-loving nation!’ It is due to his standing in international tennis that kids have decided to take up tennis as a profession rather than as a hobby. The result of Aisam’s hard work will reap fruit in the next decade; one hopes that after the return of international cricket in Pakistan, the government will now look to give tennis the respect it demands.
Snooker: The game of snooker kept sports alive in Pakistan; while sportsmen refused to tour the country after the attack on Sri Lankan cricketers, it was cueists who came forward and participated in the tournaments organised by PBSA. Since there is no ground required for snooker — just tables and accommodation — the foreign players visited Karachi on numerous occasions to represent their country and inform the world that the situation in Pakistan isn’t that bad. The city hosted World Championship last year as well as would be hosting Asian Championship later this year. The success of Pakistani players internationally only adds to the credibility of Pakistan Billiard and Snooker Association who has been nourishing talent all over the country.
Squash: Pakistani squash players dominated the sport for the better part of the last 50 years but the sport nosedived in the country during the 90s and has been on the decline since. Occasional successes are treated as breaking news in a country where Jahangir Khan’s first loss after 555 consecutive wins was the first headline in the evening bulletin. Although the sport is now treated as a recreational activity in clubs and squash complexes (for hire), if the organisers go forward and get Pakistan (or some city like the capital Islamabad) cleared as a venue from Professional Squash Association, the best players in the world might agree to visit the land of the mighty khans.
Hockey: There was a time when Pakistan was the champion of the world in hockey… but now the pioneers of World Cup, Champions Trophy and many other events are made to qualify for the Olympics, citing their poor record. Hockey, however, remains the only game that can give cricket a tough time because it is the only sport that many Pakistanis love more than the gentlemen’s game. Who can forget the record crowd at the 1990 World Cup where Pakistan lost to Holland in the final; the 1994 Champions Trophy where the victory in the final happened unexpectedly along with the countless events where the best players in the world battled against each other for supremacy. The country still has one of the best stadiums in the world (National Hockey Stadium in Lahore) and it would be great to see a top-class foreign team visit Pakistan to play test matches in front of a crowd that has been deprived of action for a long time. Yes, the Chinese team did visit Pakistan but the fans want India, Holland, Germany or even the mighty Australians to fill their empty grounds.
Boxing/Wrestling: These Olympic sports have helped Pakistan stay afloat in the international arena especially during the days when cricket teams refused to consider touring the country. The pugilists and the wrestlers did the country proud by winning medals at international events especially the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. The last time an international boxing event was held in Pakistan was 4 years back when boxers from more than 20 countries participated in the Benazir Bhutto International Boxing tournament. More matches especially at home will benefit these sportsmen who train in the worst environment but manage to deliver it when asked to represent their country abroad.
Football: It may be the most passionately followed game in the country but Pakistan’s football team needs to become more competent if it wants to ‘stay in the game.’ The national team plays most of its matches abroad mostly due to the security situation in the country. The Yemen Football team came to Pakistan a couple of months back for the World Cup Pre Qualifier but the attack on Christian Community prompted them to cancel the match and return. Last year, women’s football teams of multiple nations came to Islamabad to compete in a tournament; but the organisers failed to grab the chance and after playing hosts to most football-loving nations including India and Afghanistan, Pakistan is back to where it all began — nowhere.