Four bronze medals. That was Pakistan’s overall medals tally at the Asian Games till Friday night. With the curtain set to fall on the 2018 Asiad on Sunday (today), there was little hope that the Pakistani contingent would add much to the tally.
Pakistan’s performance in Indonesia is by far their worst in the history of the Asian Games. Just for comparison, take a look at what other Asian nations achieved at the Games.
With Pakistan languishing at 34th spot on the Asian Games’ medals table, Asian giants China were at the top with a whopping 273 medals including 123 gold and 87 silver medals. Japan were second with 194 medals followed by Republic of Korea (164), hosts Indonesia (98) and Iran (59). Pakistan’s chief rivals India were at 8th position with 67 medals that included 15 golds. Even smaller countries like Bahrain (12 gold medals), Thailand (11 gold medals), Qatar (6 gold medals), Vietnam (4 gold medals) and Mongolia (4 gold medals) were in the top 20. Pakistan were even lagging behind nations like Jordan, Cambodia, Macau and Nepal.
Pakistan’s four bronze medals came in kabaddi, karate, athletics and squash. The four medals mean that Pakistan now have an overall total of 201 medals in the Asian Games. Before the 2018 edition, Pakistan had won a total of 197 medals in the Asian Games including 44 gold, 63 silver and 90 bronze.
Hockey, in which Pakistan failed to reach the final after a shock defeat against Japan in the semis on Friday, has been Pakistan’s most successful discipline. They have won the Asian Games hockey title on eight occasions. In the past, they had just missed the podium once when Pakistan finished fourth in the 2002 Asian Games in Busan.
In the past Pakistan were also a force to be reckoned with in sports like boxing, wrestling, athletics, yachting and squash but things have changed. There was a time when Pakistan used to win medals in sports like weightlifting, cycling, volleyball, equestrian and badminton but now our athletes don’t even come close to doing that.
Back in 1954 when the Asian Games were held in Manila, Pakistan finished fourth with five gold, six silver and two bronze medals. Pakistan finished sixth in 1958 with 26 medals and eighth in the 1962 Asiad which also took place in Indonesia.
There was a gradual decline as in 1966 in Bangkok, Pakistan finished 11th with eight medals including two gold medals. In 1970, they finished 13th but regained a couple of spots for an 11th position in Tehran in 1974. There was some resurgence in 1978 in Bangkok where Pakistan had a top-10 finish with 8th spot. They retained the place in 1982 thanks to the national hockey team and the country’s fine sailors, who dominated the Enterprise category. In 1986, too, Pakistan finished 8th in Seoul and were 7th in 1990 in Beijing. But in 1994 in Hiroshima, Pakistan slumped to 22nd place after failing to win a single gold medal. In 1998 Pakistan finished 16th and in 2002 they were at 23rd place. Pakistan slumped to 31st place in Doha in 2006 and 23rd in the previous edition of the Games in Incheon (South Korea).
The reason why I took you down memory lane is because Pakistan weren’t always this bad when it came to competing in the Asian Games. Over the years, we have produced many sporting stars like the legendary sprinter Abdul Khaliq, several Asian champions in yachting, boxing and other sports.
That sort of talent is still there. The fault is in our sporting administration. Key sports bodies like Pakistan Sports Board, Pakistan Olympic Association and national federations in various sports are full of vested-interest elements. Our system is clogged with officials, who are there for personal gains. They have been there for years but have made precious little contributions towards the cause of Pakistan sports. Only by flushing them out can Pakistan sports pull itself out of this downward spiral.
But who is going to do it?
Yes, the government can play a role but unless there is a yearning for change within our sports fraternity not much is going to happen. We will have to take a long, hard look at what has happened to our sporting fortunes since the golden era of the sixties and seventies. Instead of capitalising on early gains, Pakistan has been suicidal during the last two decades or so and has even slumped in sports like hockey and squash. Poor policies, lack of planning and parasitical officials have all contributed towards this massive decline.
What happened in Indonesia should ignite all out soul-searching in the world of Pakistan sports. We might not have the sort of budgets that nations like China or even India have at their disposal but still our sports bodies accumulatively spend millions of dollars annually on a variety of projects that are doomed to fail. Millions were also spent on sending hundreds of athletes and officials to Indonesia. For what?
Unless there is a proper direction, I think all this money is going down the drain. In recent years, there have been calls for greater funding for Pakistan sports from various quarters but if we are to spend it like the way we have been spending it then the government should better think twice before issuing the grants.
It is true that Pakistan sports needs more money. But before we make any such investment we need to set ourselves in the right direction. The problem is that the people at the helm of affairs in Pakistan sports have failed to do that in the past. Expecting different results from them would be a case of wishful thinking. Personally, I believe Pakistan sports need a fresh start and for that we need fresh, motivated people with new ideas. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen.