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A hope-inducing agreement

The sports exchange programmes between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia could be very helpful to athletes of both nations

A hope-inducing agreement

There was a great breakthrough in Pakistan sports last month when during a visit of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman to Islamabad an agreement relating to sports development and cooperation was signed between the two nations under which there will be exchange of national and club teams. There will also be exchange of sports delegates. It has been learnt that the agreement will be initially for five years which could be extended.

The exchange programme of coaches, players and teams will be handled by the key sports stakeholders from both nations.

The ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) will be responsible for all such dealings with Saudi Arabia. The ministry will be backed by the national federations and National Olympic Committee (NOC).

General Sports Authority (GSA) of Saudi Arabia will deal with the IPC to conduct various programmes.

The host nation will cover board and lodging, and local transport expenses of the touring party. However, the touring party will meet its own air-fare as is normally the case in such agreements. In order to minimise doping issues experts will be engaged to educate players and make them learn how to avoid such substances.

The exchange programmes will be very helpful to both nations. Both countries have diversity in strength in various disciplines and they will learn a lot from each other’s expertise. Pakistan football could be a major beneficiary as the sport is hugely popular in Saudi Arabia. Pakistan may also learn from the expertise of Saudi Arabia in handball, athletics, rugby, and basketball.

But how keenly both nations will pursue the agreement is yet to be seen. In the past, such agreements were signed with other nations, particularly sports powerhouse China, but we failed to take full advantage of those. At youth level some exchange programmes were seen with China but these were quite ineffective as Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) used to handle them. The exchange programmes should be decided by the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and the execution should be the responsibility of national federations.

The PTI government is trying to restructure the PSB and hopefully we will see a smart handling of such MoUs.

Pakistan should sign such sports-related MoUs with other countries as well.

In the last few years our leading athletes suffered a lot as far as quality training was concerned because we had very few such agreements with other nations. The PTI government is facing criticism from every cordon. Experts say that it has put the future of the country’s sports in danger because of its inactivity as far as sports handling is concerned.

Sports cooperation with rich countries such as Saudi Arabia can bear fruit if programmes are properly designed and executed.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s leading athletes have found some good partnerships which will help them in their Olympic bids. A private television channel is likely to sponsor the country’s premier wrestler Mohammad Inam for a year in which the grappler will undergo training and feature in the qualifiers of the 2020 Olympics to be held in Tokyo.

It is highly likely that the two-time Commonwealth Games Gold medallist will be sent to Russia this month for training.

Leading karateka Saadi Abbas also has got a major sponsor for his preparation and participation for Olympics.

Saadi has also got scholarship of International Olympic Committee (IOC) as part of the Olympic Solidarity programme. The credit of this scholarship goes to the president of Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) Lt Gen (read) Syed Arif Hassan. Saadi started his journey towards Olympics by taking part in the Paris Open and Karate I Premier League in Dubai.

But Olympian judoka Shah Hussain is not being supported by anyone. Shah told me the other day from his hometown Tokyo that he was not expecting support from anywhere, especially from the Pakistan government because of his unsatisfactory performance in the Asian Games last year. However, he said that despite all odds he had started spending his own money on his preparation and pledged that he would sacrifice everything for making a cut for 2020 Olympics. Shah conceded that it was difficult to qualify for Olympics but he would try his best.

Shah’s current world ranking is 125. He needs to be among the top 20 to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

As the government is not in a position to finance the federations in their Olympic bids it’s now the responsibility of the federations to arrange sponsors so that they could train and field their top players in the Olympic qualifiers.

Athletics Federation of Pakistan (AFP) president Maj Gen (retd) Akram Sahi should send javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem for training abroad so that he could make a cut for Olympics. Arshad, who got bronze in the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, is an exceptional talent but he is being wasted.

Arshad needs tough training ahead of Asian Championships and World Championships to be hosted by Qatar in Doha this year.

National boxers have also been sitting idle since the Asian Games last year. It’s time for the Pakistan Boxing Federation (PBF) to support their leading players in their Olympic bids.

A senior official of one of the national federations told me that the government’s role in sports handling should be limited to one third. He said that federations must change their mindset and start thinking in the most professional way to manage their own resources.

Alam Zeb Safi

Alam Zeb copy
The writer is a sports reporter at The News International. He may be reached at [email protected]

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