‘Table tennis hasn’t really progressed in Pakistan’

While talent does exist in the country, grooming facilities were found wanting.

Natasha Raheel August 15, 2012

Pakistan’s performance in the London Olympics painted a dull future for sports in the country.

Apart from the disciplines that Pakistan took part in, the state of sports here has become a worrying sight, including that in table tennis, where former champions see no progress at all.

Ghazala Basit, who quit table tennis in 2004 after winning three consecutive national championships, made a return to the circuit in March and swiftly added another title to the list – the first of which was the juniors title when she was in 10th grade.

“At least now we’ve proven that table tennis in Pakistan is a married woman’s game,” joked Ghazala before adding that nothing had changed in the sport during the eight years she was away.

The current top crop is dominated by individuals with a similar story – reaching the peak but forced to sign off to start families only to return and be a dominant force once again.

“By reaching the summit, we have proved that family and sports can exist together,” added Ghazala. “I took eight years off and even after two kids, I’ve managed to regain my national title after a bit of effort.

“However, what’s worrying is that the sport in the country is not progressing at all. We took part in the national championship more for tourism and enjoyment purposes but I ended up winning the title and that speaks volumes about the state of table tennis in Pakistan. For me, it was a great achievement but on the whole, the state of female table tennis is quite poor here.”

Yasir Bhatti, the men’s top-ranked player, lauded Ghazala’s effort but rued the fact that the country has not produced a quality player for almost a decade now.

Meanwhile, Pakistan number two Shabnam Bilal, who also represented the country in April’s World Team Championship, said that the biggest loophole was the absence of academies.

“I started playing at an early age and I became the national champion when I was 18,” said Shabnam. “I also took a break and raised a family and returned to the circuit because table tennis doesn’t necessarily need you to be young. It’s the experience that counts as well. I’ve seen brilliant players who quit the sport because they got married.”

Few former champions also questioned the dedication in today’s players, confirming that while talent does exist in the country,  grooming facilities were found wanting and thus created a vacuum which the country is suffering from.

“We’re giving it time even after our marriages because we have a passion for the sport,” said another former champion. “Most girls now are not as devoted, maybe because they don’t see a future for themselves in the sport, which is a sad case.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2012.

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