At a time when sports in Pakistan have almost stopped with the state not in a position to release money to the national federations it is very important for Quetta to go for hosting the 33rd National Games as per schedule in April this year.
National Games are again in danger and may not only be postponed but could also be shifted to some other province if Balochistan persisted in taking the issue lightly.
Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) has already hinted that the biennial spectacle, initiated in 1948 in Karachi, may be given to Punjab or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa if Quetta did not make itself ready for hosting it in April.
The KP Olympic Association President Syed Aqil Shah told me the other day in an interview that he is ready to conduct the extravaganza in October if the POA allotted it to his province. However, he said if KP could host such events why other provinces could not do that.
This is a big issue. National Games are not a joke. It’s a very important event which was launched by the Quaid-e-Azam after the independence of Pakistan in Karachi in 1948. Most of the government departments give promotion to their athletes on the basis of their performances in the National Games.
The National Games were last held in Lahore in 2012. Quetta was supposed to host it in 2014 but has failed to do so till date. The event has been postponed multiple times because of security and funding issues. Now there is no funding issue as Balochistan government has sanctioned around Rs1000 million for the purpose. A huge money has already been spent on infrastructure. But the work was conducted quite slowly. An athletic track is now being installed. An expert told me that it takes one and a half years if you want to install a tartan track. It means if National Games are held in April the athletic event would not be organised on the new track at Ayub Stadium Quetta but would rather be held on the track at the Army Stadium.
And interestingly when the Games are barely two months away the main hall of the PSB Coaching Centre, Quetta, has developed leakage with rainwater trickling down its roof. It has also created a huge risk for the newly-laid wooden floor of the hall in which events of several sports disciplines are to be organised. Both the secretary sports and Balochistan Sports Board (BSB) Director General have been transferred and their seats have been vacant for the last few weeks.
According to sources, two persons had been nominated for filling the DG post but they both refused. The issue is that a lot of monetary transactions have been made by the outgoing officials and no one now is ready to work at the key posts at a time when National Games are just around the corner.
The Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan is least interested in sports. If the Games are to be protected the POA will have to take a step to put pressure on the Balochistan government by telling it that the Games would be shifted to any other province if it was not ready to host it in April. Time factor is very important. If these Games could not be held in April then in May Ramadan will start and it will be followed by summer. So it would be possible only in September and October provided there are no major international engagements of Pakistan’s leading athletes. If the 13th South Asian Games are scheduled in September and October then holding National Games this year would be a problem.
Nepal was to host the South Asian Games in March this year but its venues have not been prepared. In the first week of next month Bangkok will host the General Assembly of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) and there is a great chance that the top officials of the NOCs of the South Asian region would decide the fresh dates for the South Asian Games.
Due to uncertainty about the National Games some federations have announced their national events in April. So it’s really an alarming situation.
After the devolution of sports to the provinces it is very important for the federating units to take sports seriously. And when Games are allotted to any province it should try its best to organise them in the stipulated period. In the last few years departments spent money on preparations for National Games but they were postponed again and again. This should not happen in future. If a province is unable to host National Games then the biennial event could be allotted to departments as well. Army and WAPDA are capable of hosting the National Games.
Sindh, which organised the National Games in 2007, was given by the POA National Beach Games a few years ago but the province failed to hold it, leaving an impression that the important federating unit has no capability of developing sports. Now it is expected that Sindh would hold this event at the end of this year. The POA has already announced that the first edition of the National Beach Games would meet international standards.
The situation of sports infrastructure in Sindh and Balochistan is not good. If a small province like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa can build huge sports infrastructure why can’t Sindh and Balochistan do it?
In India even the governments of the federating units offer huge prize money to their players for winning international medals. An Indian boxing coach told me during the Commonwealth Games in Australia last year that before moving to Gold Coast the Haryana state government announced a heavy purse for those boxers who would win medals in Australia. But there is no such culture in Pakistan. For example, our leading karateka Saadi Abbas belongs to Sindh but the province never honoured this fighting boy who has to his credit gold medals in the Asian Championships, Commonwealth Championships and US Open. He is fighting for an Olympic seat these days but Sindh has no role in his journey. Balochistan did not encourage Pakistan’s professional boxer Mohammad Waseem who belongs to the same province. Punjab is not backing its premier wrestler Mohammad Inam and javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem who won bronze in the Asian Games last year in Indonesia.
It’s time for the federating units to prioritise sports and treat the sector as an industry.