When Rabia Ashiq crossed the finish line almost 17 seconds after the 800m heat winner, it gave Pakistan’s sports authorities a moment to reflect upon reality.
There are no medals for effort — our swimmers, shooter, athletes and the hockey team displayed plenty of that — but the gulf between Pakistan and the competition it took on in London was massive and worrying. A post-mortem may not take place but calls for resignations in the hockey team and the federation were swift following the seventh place finish — an improvement of one place from Beijing 2008. The contingent’s chef-de-mission called for a cut in hockey spending and a greater share for other sports.
Interest and passion notwithstanding, sports, despite its widespread following in Pakistan, needs heavy investment at the grass-roots level. But most of our schools, colleges and universities do not have enough space for classrooms, let alone fields and equipment. With the added burden of academic expectations, the majority does not have time to spend on polishing its sporting skills. The few who do follow their hearts, are often laid low due to the omnipresent financial restrictions.
Great Britain has broken its gold count record in modern-era Olympics and stands third in the table — from a single gold in Atlanta 1996 to 25 in London so far. Their World Class Performance Programme, financed in part by the National Lottery, has played its role with athletes receiving support of up to £55,000 (Rs8 million) per annum, at the development stage, in addition to a personal award that contributes towards living and personal sporting costs. While Pakistani authorities will not be able to match that, an investment and training programme, similar to what the cricket board has, will be the right launching pad. Investing in the athletes is a basic requirement as talent may bag medals at national and regional levels but without adequate nourishing, it simply labels you as mere participants at global events.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2012.
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