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Sitting idle

Very little has been done to prepare Pakistan athletes for the South Asian Games which have now been scheduled in December in Nepal

Sitting idle

The standard of sports in a country is a useful indicator to determine its population’s overall health, prosperity, and access to resources.

For creating champion sportspeople, a country has to nurture its athletes with top coaching, facilities and opportunities. Women also contribute to medal tallies and societies where women are empowered and free give superior performances at the international level.

When it comes to multi-country, multi-discipline sporting events, the South Asian Games come pretty low in the pecking order. Let alone the rest of the world, even the participating nations give it little attention. Given the abysmal state of sports in the region, and the mediocre standards on display, this neglect hardly comes as a surprise.

As was expected, India dominated the 2016 South Asian Games and came away with its best ever medal haul. Ever since the games started, India has consistently finished at the top of the table. Being the largest country in the region, this dominance is par for the course.

Sri Lanka has consistently performed much above its weight. Despite being much smaller, it has won more gold medals than Bangladesh and has matched Pakistan. After finishing third, behind India and Pakistan, in the medals tally in 2006 and 2010, Sri Lanka finished second in 2016 with 25 gold medals, or 10 percent of the total number available.

This performance was all the more creditable because the country accounts for just about 1.2 percent of the region’s population.

India is home to nearly 75 percent of South Asia’s population and with 188 gold medals, it snared 79 percent of the total gold medals awarded in 2016 edition. This was the first time the percentage of gold medals won by India exceeded its share of population in the region. Clearly India’s performance in world sports is improving and it is now a force to be reckoned with in such disciplines as boxing, shooting, badminton and wrestling.

Pakistan’s performance in the 2016 South Asian Games was the biggest disappointment. It is the second largest country in the region and has always struggled for parity with India. Since the inception of the South Asian Games, Pakistan has won 13 percent of the total gold medals in contention, which is well balanced with its 12 percent share in the region’s population.

But the nation showed a steady decline in its performance after 2004 in the biennial spectacle. Pakistan managed only 12 gold medals in 2016 — a mere five percent of the total, which is much lower than 22 percent in 2004, 20 percent in 2006, and 12 percent in 2010.

The fight against terrorism and political and economic uncertainties were the major factors behind Pakistan’s downfall in South Asian Games.

A few days ago new dates of the 13th South Asian Games were fixed in a meeting of the South Asian Olympic Council in Bangkok. The extravaganza will now be held from December 1-10 in Kathmandu and Pokhara in Nepal.

In order to revive its status or slightly improve it, Pakistan will need full-fledged preparations for the 13th South Asian Games.

But the way the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government is handling sports affairs it seems unlikely that any solid plan will be made to prepare the contingent well.

It is a frustrating situation. A huge decline has been seen in Pakistan’s international sports engagement since the nation featured in the Asian Games in August and September last year. Very few federations have managed to send their athletes for important international events.

The reason behind this is that the federal government has not provided funds to federations for the last seven to eight months. It seems that a sports curfew has been imposed. The task force on sports has submitted its recommendations with the Ministry for Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) for overhauling the sports system but the ministry has been silent since then and has not shared the recommendations with the major stakeholders. It seems to be a huge blunder on the part of the ministry as implementation of the recommendations without taking stakeholders into confidence may create a big issue for the government in future.

Since retirement of the former Director General of the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) Dr Akhtar Nawaz Ganjera early last year, the Board has been functioning without a full-time DG. Akhtar is in custody for his alleged involvement in corruption.

The Board seems to have ceased to exist as it is not addressing the issues of the federations. Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) has written a letter to the ministry of IPC, informing it that Pakistan would need quality preparation for the 13th South Asian Games.

A few days ago POA secretary Khalid Mehmood told me that the camps for individual sports should start now. He has advised all federations to complete their national championships by August so that the athletes could remain in camps for at least three months ahead of the South Asian Games.

I always write that the government should reform the sports system but it should not stop sports activities. Because of the prevailing situation Pakistan’s Olympic preparations have been hit hard. I don’t think federations would be able to field their athletes in many qualifying rounds for the 2020 Olympics in such a situation. It is the most resource-intensive exercise and without the state’s massive input Pakistan’s Olympic ambitions cannot be materialised. As I have written several times devolution of sports was the biggest mistake. This view was echoed a few days ago by the secretary of the IPC ministry Akbar Durrani during the meeting of a National Assembly’s Standing Committee in Islamabad.

Durrani told the committee that following devolution sports had become a provincial matter and the centre was finding it hard to make provinces realise the importance of sports.

He told the committee that whenever a contingent went abroad, it represented the country, not the province. Durrani said the athletes compete abroad under the flag of Pakistan, but the centre has no power to keep a check on the provinces who plan independently for sports promotion.

Systems need overhauling according to the demands of the time but going for anything big without taking input from key stakeholders is going to be disastrous.

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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