No Pakistani qualifies for Rio 2016 Olympics

Published: July 15, 2016
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Hockey players train at the Gaddafi field hockey stadium in Lahore, Pakistan July 11, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Hockey players train at the Gaddafi field hockey stadium in Lahore, Pakistan July 11, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

LAHORE, PAKISTAN: Pakistan’s sporting decline has left the vast South Asian nation that once prided itself on producing the world’s best hockey and squash players facing up to an Olympics for which none of its athletes have qualified.

While cricket remains a wildly popular game in Pakistan, a nation of almost 200 million people, most other sports have shrunk in popularity as the successes of the 1980s and early 1990s have become a distant memory.

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In dilapidated gyms and crumbling sports fields Pakistani athletes lament the dated equipment and obsolete training methods which leave them struggling against foreign foes who adhere to the latest science-based techniques.

Female athletes have an even bigger mountain to climb: most young girls in the deeply conservative Muslim nation are pressured by their families to stop exercising in public, while those with family backing face the wrath of their communities.

“We are behind the rest of the world,” said Inam Butt, a Pakistani wrestling champion who won gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. “Our budget, training and facilities are just nothing. How can we compete?”

Butt, like other athletes, says the future will remain bleak until Pakistan’s government starts pouring money into sport.

The seven participants due to represent Pakistan at next month’s Rio Olympics have all been given wildcard entries and stand “no chance” of winning medals, according to Arif Hasan, the Pakistan Olympic Association president.

“They are more or less going for the participation and gaining the experience. Let’s hope next time will be better,” he said.

1980s training methods

Those in charge of promoting sport in Pakistan despair.

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The grassroots system is almost non-existent, children in schools rarely play a sport which is not cricket, and top athletes seldom compete against the world’s best as cash-strapped federations cannot afford to send them abroad.

Waqar Ahmed, deputy director of the Pakistan Sports Board, said federations also cannot afford to hire top coaches familiar with scientific training techniques and end up relying on Pakistani trainers with “obsolete” methods from the 1980s.

“Athletes are really frustrated because… the coaches are not literate and they have been teaching what they were taught 30 years back,” he said. “Without infrastructure we can do a lot, but without the techniques you cannot win.”

Badminton players train at a sports hall in Lahore, Pakistan July 11, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

The demise of hockey, Pakistan’s national sport, has been painful to watch for an older generation who prospered during the halcyon days between 1960 and 1994, when Pakistan regularly won Olympic gold medals and world championships.

Tahir Zaman, Pakistan hockey team coach, said the lack of government support means many young athletes no longer see a future in sports like hockey where top players get $10 per day. Pakistani cricketers, by contrast, are paid $5,000 monthly retainers and make a fortune from sponsorship deals.

“The attraction is not there anymore. The (government) is not offering regular jobs for players,” said Zaman, who won a bronze playing for Pakistan at the 1992 Olympics.

At Lahore’s empty 45,000-seat hockey stadium, Pakistani hockey player Hassan Anwar, 21, said that as a teenager his family begged him: “please don’t play hockey if you want a bright future”.

The demise of hockey has been mirrored by the decline in the Pakistani squash scene, where young players know all about 1980s legend Jahangir Khan – considered the greatest ever squash player – but none match his bravura on the court.

Women harassed 

Pakistan’s best known squash player is Maria Toorpakay Wazir, ranked 65 in the world, but to train she spent years dressing and pretending to be a boy in the ultra-conservative tribal areas near Afghanistan. Now she trains abroad.

Pakistan Olympic chief Hasan says societal “barriers are coming down” for women but many female athletes rue the slow pace of change.

At 16, Neelam Riaz’s first love was cycling, but her father banned her from training on roads as men would stare at her. In response, she took up karate to learn how to fend off men and eventually stumbled on weightlifting.

Weightlifter Neelam Riaz trains at a sports hall in Lahore, Pakistan July 11, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Pakistan’s representation in 2016 Olympics next to none

“Usually in Pakistan girls are discouraged from sports, and often coaches push back,” said Riaz, 25, who last year became a national champion and Pakistan’s first female weightlifter to compete abroad.

“Now my family is happy with me doing weightlifting.”

In a dimly lit Lahore gym, where paint peels off walls, windows are shattered and cobwebs cling to a damp ceiling, Riaz is tutoring 16-year-old Iqra Chanzaib, who is new to weightlifting.

Chanzaib wanted to play basketball, but the only hoop near her house was out in the open and full of boys, so one of her pious brothers protested. She then opted for weightlifting, indoors.

“There are plenty of girls like me but they cannot come because of family pressures. My own friends want to come but their families stop them,” she said.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • Pakistan
    Jul 15, 2016 - 11:19AM

    Speaks volumes of the development that has or has not taken place in a over 30 years period of Nawaz and his brother Shahbaz.Recommend

  • سے Shaam (Hanafi)
    Jul 15, 2016 - 11:29AM

    Pictures of Badminton and Weight Lifter are deplorable, I can’t believe this is Pakistan’s coaching facilities for being Olympians. Sports ministry should be sacked… Good job TE for highlighting the plight of the players… Recommend

  • Hammad
    Jul 15, 2016 - 1:04PM

    I’m tired of seeing so much go to cricket and nothing else. With a defense budget that keeps on rising every year I’m not surprised there is nothing left for anything else. Recommend

  • Josheela
    Jul 15, 2016 - 1:21PM

    Pathetic!…another glaring indicator of the incompetence of the ‘managers’ of Pakistan. As a patriotic person I don’t care who manages Pakistan as long as they can bring back the glory in wearing the green blazer and carrying the green passport. Our youth has tremendous potential and capabilities otherwise they wouldn’t be successful outside Pakistan. The sports ministry is another corrupt mafia gobbling up all funds weather local or those donated by organisations like FIFA. So what’s the cure…? Another million dollar question that the top boss of Pakistan should be asking the minister for sports… and where and on what did he spend our money?…Recommend

  • Pukumoddadenguta
    Jul 15, 2016 - 2:30PM

    Honest advice why can’t pakistan government send them to get trained in china.Recommend

  • Kickass
    Jul 15, 2016 - 2:50PM

    @Hammad:
    You are either very stupid or somebody from across the border either side. You wouldn’t be commenting if Defence was not there.Recommend

  • Jojo
    Jul 15, 2016 - 2:58PM

    And more than 100 athletes from India, including the men’s and women’s hockey teams, have qualified for the Olympics!Recommend

  • Haji Atiya
    Jul 15, 2016 - 3:56PM

    Don’t know why we lot are so hooked on cricket, and why something like soccer hasn’t taken off, which requires even a lot less gear and is the most popular sport in the world ? Perhaps its too strenuous for the type of physique most people have in Pakistan…Recommend

  • Lolz
    Jul 15, 2016 - 4:14PM

    They need metro bus more than anything else! Recommend

  • Zareen
    Jul 15, 2016 - 4:51PM

    Pakistani leaders must invest on sportsperson rather than militants. Recommend

  • Haji Atiya
    Jul 15, 2016 - 4:55PM

    @Kickass:
    Let me give you a piece of information: most of the wars we lost with our neighbor was not so much because we were lacking quantitatively or qualitatively in firepower or armaments but more to do with our planning abilities and tactics. That’s something one can’t just purchase off the shelf. So we are up to our teeth in “defense” and it is high time money gets channeled sufficiently elsewhere.Recommend

  • Fahim
    Jul 15, 2016 - 5:07PM

    Even if an Engineer or MBA doesn’t get immediate job after graduation then his family torture them every day. How can you imagine that Pakistanis will proceed for a risky future if there is such a family system. Recommend

  • Indian Pitbull
    Jul 15, 2016 - 5:50PM

    This is generally true of all South Asian nations. Things have improved lately in India. In the 80s and early 90s, it was painful for us to watch our country return empty handed from the olympics. The government is now investing money in sports facilities and things are improving but we are still a long long way from the sporting powerhouses.
    Pakistani public need to assess why successive governments are failing sportspersons AND act. Mere discussing isnt going to improve thingsRecommend

  • vinsin
    Jul 15, 2016 - 6:39PM

    Majority of events in Olympics are not played in south Asia. Pakistan usually participate in Hockey, Wrestling, Boxing and weightlifting and those makes only 50 events. Since Pakistan is an Islamic state and doesnt have universal women rights that reduces to 25 events. Pakistan is currently not doing well in wreslting, weightlifting and hockey and that reduced further to 7 events. Now in Boxing also it would be mostly light weight and that would mean close to 4 events. Now in all that India is doing little better, so Pakistan should not be surprised.Recommend

  • M. Emad
    Jul 15, 2016 - 7:07PM

    Bangladesh Golfer Siddikur Rahman qualify for the Rio Olympics (2016).Recommend

  • ashok
    Jul 15, 2016 - 7:09PM

    Win Kashmir and all issues will be solved. Your economy will gallop, exports will double, agriculture will zoom, you will win Nobel prizes and of course Olympic golds.Recommend

  • Desi
    Jul 15, 2016 - 7:27PM

    It’s the result of the priorities. Supporting numerous terrorists instead of athletes, this is what you get!Recommend

  • sk
    Jul 16, 2016 - 7:33AM

    Don’t worry Pakistanis! We shall work to introduce terror related games including suicide bombings, etc in Olympics in nearing future to ensure maximum participation from Pakistan, Sudan & other Muslim nations, for both male & female category. This would also ensure Pakistan as winner of Gold, Silver & Bronze medals in all categories.Recommend

  • mastishhk
    Jul 16, 2016 - 9:45AM

    CPEC will change everything !Recommend

  • Satya
    Jul 16, 2016 - 10:56PM

    Alas! There is unfortunately no suicide bombing in this year’s Olympics. Every country invests in military and its external security, but unfortunately Pakistan has got such a coward military that they need to invest in terrorists for external security and its military keeps on conquring its own land for ever…go and check if your R Sharif has some organic ball or just ties two small plastic balls there..hahahaRecommend

  • Jul 17, 2016 - 2:13AM

    I am BJJ brown belt but govt did not support me to participate in Olympics. I’m waiting since 2011Recommend

  • Mahadevan
    Jul 17, 2016 - 12:59PM

    So What? After all Pakistanis do not want to compete against the Iron Brother Chinese. So simple is it not?Recommend

  • mastishhk
    Jul 21, 2016 - 12:43PM

    Pakistan has withdrawn its athletes in China’s favour. Its an agreement related to CPEC.Recommend

  • Namaste
    Jul 24, 2016 - 8:11AM

    This brings dishonour to Pakistan, not qandeel baloch
    But of course it is easy to pin point and blame her Recommend

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