It has become a familiar sight — Pakistani athletes featuring in multi-nation sports events mostly as also-rans. Even qualifying for major events has become an uphill task. Winning medals has almost become an unreachable goal. It actually takes some effort to remember when Pakistan won their last Olympic medal. Even Asian Games medals are becoming fewer and far between. The slump didn’t happen overnight, though. And it didn’t happen because we have run out of talent. It’s all about planning, or perhaps, the lack of it.
For years, Pakistan relied on hockey for Olympic medals but that well seems to have dried up. It is time that the country explores other possibilities like sports shooting.
Ask Commodore Syed Ghazanfar Abbas, one of the most decorated national shooters, and he will tell you that the one sport in which Pakistan can earn Olympic glory is shooting.
I had a long chat with Abbas, who also happens to be the vice president of the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) recently on the various ways and means to put Pakistan sports back on track.
Abbas was convinced that if Pakistan made a long-term investment in shooting then there are bright chances that the country can win even an Olympic gold medal as early as the 2024 Games. Following are the excepts of the interview.
“I started shooting as a Naval officer back in 1992. At that time we were ahead of India. We used to win more shooting medals at the South Asian level than India. But the Indians invested heavily in shooting. As a result, 17 of their shooters qualified for the Olympics. One of their shooters Abhinav Bindra even became an Olympic champion in 2008. If India can do it then so can we.
“From our women’s team, Minhal Sohail represented Pakistan in the Rio Olympics last year. She almost qualified for the medals round. She finished ahead of all her Indian rivals. Minhal missed out on the medals round just because she was two points short. And she didn’t even have sufficient exposure. Imagine what she could have achieved with proper experience and training.
“Shooting is the only sport in which we qualified for Olympics. If we had good coaches and other necessary facilities and international exposure, this is one sport in which we can excel.
“At present, we are working with a limited budget and the pool of our shooters is also not big enough. But I must say that we have lots of potential. We are staging summer camps, we are carrying out talent hunts but to polish our top shooters we need much more than that. We need top class coaching and extensive international exposure. You have to spend around 700,000 rupees a month to hire a good coach for just one team. Our weapons and ammunition is not state-of-the-art though we try to provide our shooters with the best possible equipment. The government and private sponsors will have to support shooting. That’s because it is an expensive sport which is mostly being supported by Navy and Army at the moment.
“To make a comprehensive plan, I would start with a nation-wide talent hunt in the country and then hold a centralised camp for the best shooters. We should provide them with top class coaching, training, equipment and international exposure. I believe if we do this then within the next seven to eight years we will have world class shooters and we can win an Olympic medal in 2024. “A focused effort on shooting can help Pakistan produce its first gold medallist in shooting.
“In rapidfire, our shooter GM Bashir gets an average training score of 585 plus. In the Olympics, one of the finalists scored 581. We certainly have the capability. Bashir could have reached the finals but failed because he lacked the necessary international experience.
“We have a world class shooting range at PNS Karsaz supervised by Commander KU Rahim. The Pakistan Navy Shooting Range is a well-equipped facility with latest electronic target system where more than 150 active shooters including civilians train. We have certified coaches trained from abroad who help us run summer camps and hold talent hunt projects.
“We are trying our level best within our limited resources. There is immense potential. The will is also there and that is precisely the reason why Pakistan shooting has progressed despite all odds. The CNS is the President of NRAP and fully supports shooting,” says Abbas, who is on the executive committee and selection committee of the National Rifle Association of Pakistan (NRAP). He is also Vice President of the South Asian Shooting Federation. Abbas has served as Pakistan’s manager and coach major events like the Asian Games. He had a rich shooting career, having won a South Asian gold medal. He also won ten silver medals in South Asian Games. He still holds the national record in big bore pistol event. Abbas has more than 30 gold medals in National Championships in his personal trophy cabinet.
Over the years, Abbas has trained many talented shooters. His own son is also a leading shooter at age 23. Hassan Abbas excels at rifle events and recently won two gold medals in the Nationals.
Abbas believes that Pakistan will ignore shooting at their own peril. “It is the one sport in which we should invest because it will definitely pay off in the long run.”