Pakistan is about to celebrate the 76th anniversary of the first ever National Games. In April 1948, 140 participants from the newly formed country gathered to take part in the National Games. The year was also marked by Pakistan’s first appearance at the London Olympics.

For seventy years, Pakistan has produced excellent athletes in various sports. From the Khans’ thirty-year reign in squash to Sohail Abbas’ hundreds of goals in hockey, Pakistani athletes have made the nation proud despite challenging times and circumstances. The recent successes of athletes like javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem, weightlifter Nooh Dastagir Butt and squash player Hamza Khan on the world stage demonstrate the continued potential of Pakistani athletes even with limited support.

The national conversation about sports in the country often revolves around their administrative challenges, funding issues and the problems that sports organizations face, but rarely around the athletes themselves. As the African saying goes: ‘Until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter.’ In the same way, the athletes’ stories will only be heard if we stand up for ourselves. This is what prompted me to write down my thoughts on the sports affairs of the country today.

When we reflect on Pakistan’s sporting journey, we find an impressive track record of 10 Olympic medals, 42 Commonwealth Games medals and 207 Asian Games medals. These achievements are remarkable for a young country whose short history has been marred by political instability.

One of Pakistan’s most famous squash players voices her views on sports matters and the challenges faced by athletes in the country

However, credit for these successes often goes to the authorities, who have done little to support the athletes or ease their struggles. The athletes, whose achievements far outweigh the quality of the resources made available to them, are still left to fend for themselves.

Looking at the past two decades, Pakistan’s sports budget has fluctuated, starting with Rs433.7 million ($7.5 million) in 2003, and then falling and rising over the years. In 2020-2021, the budget was Rs929.492 million ($5.7 million). We see that the budget has actually decreased over the years (in terms of US dollars).

And while there have been programs and policies for talent hunting, such as the 2001 sports policy and the ratification of the International Olympic Committee Charter (revised in 2005), which did not impose political interference in sports, these measures are so far only remained on paper. with little or no material change on the ground.

It is often said that Pakistan’s performance in international sports competitions does not match its population or economic potential. While this may be true, a deeper look easily shows why this might be the case. The athletes’ daily lives are full of unnecessary challenges, such as a lack of training facilities and a struggle to meet their basic needs, such as daily nutrition, supplements, appropriate equipment and other equipment.

All this continues while administrative officials are paid high salaries, with luxurious amenities such as access to cars. On the other hand, the athletes often even have difficulty covering their transportation and health insurance. These financial challenges have been further exacerbated by recent inflation.

All this has resulted in reduced participation of Pakistani athletes in international competitions as the athletes rely on non-standard sources of financing such as crowdfunding and even loans. The financial challenges are also faced by coaches, who have now started migrating from Pakistan in search of an opportunity to be appreciated for their talent and skills.

Public criticism is often brutal and uninformed. While the athletes receive immediate media attention and public attention when they succeed, their daily struggles are dismissed and neglected when they are unable to perform beyond the quality of the resources made available to them. This can take a significant mental toll on the athletes, who are then under even more pressure to perform well in future competitions. Furthermore, the athletes are shunned and harassed when they try to speak out about their circumstances.

Sport has always had an underappreciated positive impact on a society. In Pakistan, where religious, sectarian, ethnic and communal differences can often divide people, sport has the unique quality of uniting everyone into a single community of athletes.

Furthermore, athletes such as cricketers Ihsanullah, Naseem Shah, Kamran Ghulam, Imran Sr, Wasim Jr, Nasir Iqbal and Shaheen Afridi and squash player Maria Toor have countered the negative narratives built up in the media about their regions and highlighted the passion, kindness and talent that lies, among other things, in the people of the former Fata and Pata.

Similarly, the efforts of athletes such as cricketers Javeria Khan and Sana Mir, karateka Kulsoom Hazara, mountaineer Naila Kiani and others have also paved the way for future generations of women athletes to break cultural and regional barriers, while transforming the country in a positive way represent. way.

Furthermore, the efforts of cricketer Babar Azam, Arshad Nadeem, squash player Noor Zaman and others to highlight the failures of our sporting structure and the daily struggles of athletes have been invaluable. The resilience and strength shown by Pakistani athletes can, in fact, inspire the nation.

The choice for the future of Pakistani athletes and sports lies in the hands of the nation. It is up to us to decide whether we want to build a better future for our athletes, or perpetuate a cycle of corruption, broken systems, intimidation and disloyal governance.

The decision we make will determine the legacy we leave for future generations.

The writer is one of Pakistan’s leading squash players, who came to the game after dabbling in cycling and cricket. She is also an advisor to the Sports Ministry of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
X: @noorenashams

Published in Dawn, EOS, April 21, 2024