Pakistan won no medals in Tokyo. The last time the country won a medal was in 1992 at the Barcelona Games where our hockey team clinched bronze. This is something to feel ashamed about. What has happened to the country that produced so many Olympic greats? Have we resigned ourselves to the consistently poor performances that our athletes deliver?
Granted that despite the poor performances in Tokyo, there were some moments to cheer. For example, Arshad Nadeem made history as the first-ever Pakistani athlete to qualify for the final of any track and field event in the Olympics. Khanewal-born Nadeem made it to the final of the men’s javelin throw with a throw of 85.16m, well beyond the qualification mark of 83.50m. He eventually finished fifth in the competition but won much praise for his efforts.
Similarly weightlifter Talha Talib missed out on a medal for Pakistan but turned plenty of heads as Pakistan finally took notice of him. The 21-year-old lifter from Gujranwala, making his Olympics debut, took part in the 67kg category and held the gold medal spot until the final round before eventually being bumped down and denied a podium finish.
But the fact is that among the 10 athletes who took part in the Olympics, only Nadeem and Talib came close to winning a medal. Both finished fifth in their respective disciplines. What about the others?
Pakistan's shooters disappointed. National champion Ghulam Mustafa Bashir qualified for the medal round at the end of stage one of the 25m rapid fire pistol shooting competition but was eliminated after failing in two stages of qualifiers. Another Pakistani shooter, Khalil Akhtar, could not give a significant performance in Stage 1 and was eliminated from the medal round.
The country’s top shuttler Mahoor Shahzad, who was the country’s first badminton player to feature in the Olympic Games, was beaten in straight sets by a Japanese player in just 23 minutes.
Sprinter Najma Parveen finished last in the women's 200m heat. What was more disappointing was not her position, but her timing which was recorded 28.12 seconds.
Where do we go from here? There are calls now to remove the head of the Pakistan Olympics Association, Lt Gen (retd) Arif Hasan. Shahbaz Gill, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, at a news conference "asked” Hasan to resign from the post he has held since 2004. Gill alleged that the POA had no accountability during the last 17 years. After becoming POA chief, Gill said, Hasan changed its constitution, removing the prime minister as its patron and hence there was never any accountability during his term. He also added hand-picked members as independent voters so he can cling on to his post.
The POA for its part claims that Hasan was elected through a fair process in 2019, with representatives from the IOC and the Olympic Council of Asia also in attendance. It also reiterated that interference in its matters will lead to intervention by the IOC.
Is it not ironic that in a country where a top sportsperson is the prime minister, the state of sports is in such a shamble? When he was captain of the cricket team, Imran Khan insisted on merit as the sole criteria. Who can forget the number of fights he got into over his insistence of merit? Today he looks the other way.
The culture of patronage, of corruption and of looking the other way needs to end. All major sports bodies need to be revamped. Officials cannot continue to oblige each other. For example, POA cannot please their chosen ones by sending them to the Olympics as coaches. Pakistan Badminton Federation secretary was in Tokyo as the coach of Mahoor Shahzad, while the Pakistan Weightlifting Federation President travelled as the coach of Talha. This is sheer nonsense. Both should be sacked.
The failing isn’t of the POA only. It is of us as a sporting nation. Why have we let Pakistani hockey decline to where it is today? Why have we not held our respective governments responsible for the slide in sporting standards? Where was the media when all this was taking place? It is time to look inwards, which for any Pakistani is next to impossible.
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