Wrong foot on the tracks

Wrong foot on the tracks

LAHORE: There has been immediate and widespread criticism of General Arif Hassan’s re-election unopposed as President of Pakistan Olympic Association. This is justified in the sense that the POA constitution restricts the term of the president, and General Hassan has headed the organisation since 2004. In this time spanning well over a decade, Pakistan’s performances have not been good with zero Olympic medals and a sad showing in many other events.

But is the media and other critics attacking the right culprits? Each time Pakistan suffers yet another debacle, whether at the Asian Games or other sporting events, it is the athletes and the POA which immediately come under fire. For the athletes we should ask how they can be expected to perform in athletics, boxing, weight-lifting, shooting, swimming or other events such as football, volleyball and other team sports with such a poor sporting structure and so few resources. Pakistan’s spending on sports is negligible. As a result, even Bangladesh, leave alone India and Sri Lanka, have moved well ahead in many disciplines. For this the IPC ministry needs to take some responsibility. The lack of funding means even athletes such as Inam Butt who won a gold medal in wrestling at the Commonwealth Games have managed their achievements on the basis of their own efforts. A few have been fortunate enough to find patrons or sponsors. But sports on the whole cannot develop with so much governmental indifference, and even the arrival of Imran Khan as prime minister seems to have changed nothing.

It is suggested the athletes themselves or their federations find a way to feed them. This is an impossible situation for impoverished athletes and federations which have been granted fewer and fewer resources. Pressure from the POA has led to at least some food being offered, even if it is not adequate for athletes hoping to compete at top levels. Almost all athletes need over 3000 to 3500 calories a day and in sports like wrestling or weightlifting, men in particular, need more. Half starved, malnourished athletes cannot hope to take on rivals.

The POA has multiple flaws. There is also a big question over ex-army officers holding key posts in sport and other walks of life. We need professional sports managers. Few exist in the country. But regardless of where the heads come from, most of all we need commitment, resources and a workable programme. The excellent scheme for developing sports put forward by the POA to the ministry and PSB has apparently been ignored. There had obviously been research behind it. Despite multiple POA letters, there has been the most limited response from the PSB on hosting SAG for 2021 when Pakistan is due to hold the Games. Incredibly the PSB and the ministry appear to lack even the most basic knowledge of sport or the facilities required for various disciplines. The complex and inefficient relationship between these bodies adds to difficulties. Streamlining is urgently required. The whole structure is clunky and virtually unworkable.

Pakistan must move up step by step. At the present rate with field hockey and squash, as well as wrestling, all struggling to keep up with modern times and new developments, Pakistan’s hopes of Olympic medals even in its traditional sports of strength stand at nil no matter who heads the POA. But to improve matters it is essential the ugly politics and rivalries we are currently seeing be removed. Rules too should be followed. There is no room for politics and petty backbiting in sports or for the nepotism we see everywhere. The PSB must explain its own performance over the years given that it is the body constitutionally mandated to develop and fund sports in the country. Unless it is revamped there seems little hope of moving on to the victory stand.

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