Spending three days covering the Sindh Games made me realise that the event was not just an event, it’s a very personal affair.
Sitting at the Gama Stadium in Mirpurkhas, where the temperature rose to 43 degrees, I wondered why over 2,000 athletes come all the way to this small town and drain their energy in the treacherous conditions, what exactly drives them to such acts, especially when 1,200 of them won’t even get basic facilities with no rooms to stay in and no water for them to drink or shower.
It’s the provincial games not the Olympics, for God’s sake.
But after spending three days with these athletes, I realised that the Sindh Games were more about changing lives. For many female athletes, this was the only chance to come out of their cities like Sukkur, Larkana and Hyderabad and experience the outside world.
For the men from interior Sindh, it was an opportunity to prove themselves away from the lives most of them lead as farmers.
For students participating in table tennis, tennis, badminton and chess events, it was a matter of their college and university’s prestige and for the athletes that featured in judo, taekwondo, karate and boxing, Sindh Games was a platform where they could represent their clubs, hoping to go far and beyond one day.
The Sindh Olympics Association’s (SOA) breakdown of funds confirmed that most of the budget went unaccounted for with local associations and athletes not able to feature highly on their priority list.
Despite the conditions, most of the participants were content at just making it this far.
“I know we were kept like animals but I’d give anything to take part in the Sindh Games next year,” said Mahwish, a netball player from Larkana. “It’s my ticket to freedom. I study at a government college and my parents never let me go anywhere.
“But I’m here with six friends and we’re enjoying it. Winning or losing doesn’t really make a huge difference but taking part in the events also allows us to keep fit.”
Similarly, for Akbar Shah, a table tennis player who won gold for Karachi, the event was his way to look out for his younger brother who is the junior’s top-seed in Sindh.
He’d come to Mirpurkhas just so that he could look after his sibling. In Iftikhar Ali’s case, who has participated in Sindh Games for the past 10 years, corruption on the SOA’s part does not deter him from coming back to the event each year.
“I need these games,” he said. “The medals aren’t of much use and a Rs250 daily allowance is nothing but the provincial games give me a reason to take part in kabaddi.
“There’s a sense of pride and I also feel good when I meet the political figures during the event. I have something to tell my people back home.”
At the end of the three-day event, the athletes I spoke to were all aware of the fact that getting adequate facilities in Pakistan was an alien thought.
One of them even labelled being a athlete a curse. But they keep coming back. For them, the SOA’s negligence is not a concern. A tour of a small city for them is a good enough reason to be an athlete with the chance to experience something out of their daily routine an added bonus.
Where are the remaining Rs9m?
According to the Sindh Olympics Association (SOA) Secretary Ahmed Ali Rajput, the government released funds of Rs13.5 million to hold the event in Mirpurkhas out of which Rs2.7m were spent on the athletes’ and technical officials’ daily allowance.
Each athlete was given a Rs250 daily allowance for five days and the winners did not get any prize-money but the medals and plastic trophies cost the SOA almost Rs600,000, according to Rajput. The 24 local associations were given Rs10,000 each to renovate the courts and buy the equipment for sports like gymnastics, table tennis, tennis, judo and boxing. The accommodation expenses for the athletes amounted to nearly Rs700,000 while the opening and closing ceremony cost the SOA Rs150,000 each.
The remaining amount, almost Rs9m, has not been accounted for.
The writer is a sports reporter for The Express Tribune
Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2012.