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Swimming against the tide

The world of Pakistan sports remains trapped in a downward spiral but precious little is being done to put it back on track

Swimming against the tide

Next month, Pakistan’s top junior squash players will be looking to make their presence felt in the World Junior Squash Championship to be played in the South Indian city of Chennai. They will be hoping against hope to somehow win the coveted world junior crown. But odds are heavily stacked against them as neither of the Pakistani players is even included in the top-16 seedings of the championship.

That’s why it’s highly unlikely that a Pakistani player will be able to add his name to the list of world junior squash champions. It was way back in 1986 that Jansher Khan won the world junior title in Australia and the legend still holds the honour of being the last Pakistani to do so.

It’s not just that no Pakistani player is likely to win the world junior championship. The thing is that it won’t be surprising if no player from the Pakistani team even manages to reach the quarter-finals of the event to be played from July 18 to 29.

The draws of the championship released recently by the World Squash Federation (WSF) show a near complete Egyptian domination in the men’s event. Egyptian youngsters Marwan Tarek and Rowan Elaraby are seeded to retain their titles in Chennai. Tarek, who won the title last year in New Zealand, is likely to meet his 17-year-old second seeded compatriot Mostafa Asal in the final of the men’s event.

The top sixteen seeds in the men’s championship include six Egyptians, three Englishmen, two Malaysians and players from USA, Canada, Mexico, Colombia and Switzerland.

There is not a single Pakistani and that’s a bit surprising considering that just in 2016, Pakistan won the world junior team title in Poland.

But that’s the way Pakistan squash has been in the post Jahangir and Jansher Khan years. The country did produce a few good players but they gave it false hopes and now Pakistan stands nowhere in the world of squash.

It’s a similar story for the country in many other sports in which it once excelled.

Hockey is one of them.

Currently, Pakistan’s top hockey players are featuring in the 37th Champions Trophy in the Netherlands with fears that they will take the wooden spoon in what is the last edition of the prestigious competition. By the time these lines appear in print, they would have featured in the most eagerly-awaited game of the contest – against arch-rivals India — on Saturday.

Pakistan, who have slumped in the world hockey rankings, did show some promise in their last major international outing – the Commonwealth Games in Australia. They remained unbeaten in the event with respectable draws against higher-ranked teams like England and India. However, despite the improvement shown by the team under new coach Roelant Oltmans, Pakistan are unlikely to achieve any spectacular results in the six-team Champions Trophy that includes top-flight teams like defending champions Australia, hosts the Netherlands, Belgium and current Olympic champions Argentina. In such a field, even a second-last place would be considered an achievement by the Pakistanis in the Dutch city of Breda.

That’s a far cry from the olden days when Pakistan ruled the world of hockey. Back in 1978 when the Champions Trophy was launched, Pakistan were runaway winners at home. They won the next edition as well. But things have gone too far south for the Pakistanis, who are now hoping to rebuild their team ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Similar efforts were also made in the past but with little or no success.

A lack of long-term thinking was the prime reason why past attempts proved futile. Everything revolved around the desire of achieving results in minimum possible time. It didn’t occur to the policy makers that Pakistan hockey is in a shambles and there won’t be any quick fixes. I really hope that the current top brass of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) realizes this and goes for long-term measures. They have done well by bringing back Oltmans and also by providing him with a free hand in team selection and training. If they continue with this policy, results will come not in the near future but certainly by the time the team is getting ready for Olympic qualification ahead of Tokyo 2020.

But before that Pakistan’s hockey team and dozens of other athletes will be featuring in the 18th Asian Games to be hosted by Indonesia in Jakarta and Palembang from August 18 to September 2. Pakistan will be one of the chief contenders for the hockey title but the country is unlikely to do well in most of the other disciplines in the regional extravaganza. That’s because the country’s sports authorities once again failed to come up with proper preparations ahead of the Asiad. With the Games now merely a few weeks away, the authorities are still bickering on how many athletes and officials would be made part of the national contingent. But that’s hardly unusual. It happens every now and then as the people at the helm of Pakistan sports affairs continue to blunder in their decision-making. The world of Pakistan sports remains trapped in a downward spiral but precious little is being done to put it back on track.

Khalid Hussain

khalid hussain
The author is Editor Sports of The News. He can be reached at [email protected]

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