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Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Reminiscing the golden days of Pakistan sports industry

The writer reminds us of the flourishing days of the Pakistani sports industry and its players. He further talks about the potential of our players and how they went from once the world champions to absentees on international platforms like the Olympics.

It sounds like a fairy tale when one says the fastest man in Asia was a Pakistani. But that’s the truth. In the fifties and early sixties, Pakistan was a sporting power of Asia. Abdul Khaliq established a new Asian record in the 1954 Asian games 100-meter sprint & was deemed “the fastest man of Asia”. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was so taken by Subedar Abdul Khaliq’s performance that he named him” the flying bird of Asia”. It was not a one-off, Khaliq earned 36 gold medals from the International Sports meet.

Pakistani athletes in those initial days of our independence earned kudos with their prowess. Pakistan won gold in not only sprint but also in endurance long races like 1500 meters 5000 meters. Pakistan did a one two in a 200-meter race at Manila in 1954, meaning they won Gold and silver. It sounds unbelievable but it did happen.

Read more: The Decline of Sports in Pakistan and how to Revive it

Remembering the glory days 

In hurdles race Pakistan’s Ghulam Raziq and Mirza Khan reigned supreme in the 50s. In fact, Pakistan’s last sputter of Gold in Athletics was in the 1990s game when Ghulam Abbas won the 400 meters hurdle race. That was it, after that 31 years have gone by without Pakistan winning any Gold in athletics. In those early days, Muhammad Iqbal and Muhammad Nawaz kept Pakistan’s flag flying high in power games like hammer throw and javelin throw.

Wrestling is a traditional Pakistani sport with a rich history. Pakistan showed that they have the potential when Din Muhammad brought gold for Pakistan in the first Asiad Pakistan participated. The initial spark continued to burn for a while and within that time Pakistan collected six golds but as in any other sports Pakistan dwindled to an also appeared category slowly and gradually. The last of the wrestling gold came in 1986. Pakistan was very much suited to the sports of boxing, physically and mentally.

Read more: Pandemic hits Pakistan’s sports industry for six

Pakistani players: once the hockey and boxing champions 

In the 60s Pakistan did make its mark in Boxing at least at the Asian level. Especially in the heavier body weights, Pakistan was a power to be reckoned with. But the spark was not long lasting. Haider Ali won the last of the six golds for Pakistan in 2002. Even in this century where Pakistani born Britisher Amir Khan had become world Champion in Boxing, Muhammad Waseem and Hussain Shah made a name for themselves in the international arena. Plus, Pakistan had a wonderful motivational beacon of light to follow Muhammad Ali but unfortunately, somehow Pakistan has not won boxing gold for the last 19 years even at the Asian level.

The wound given by Hockey is still seeping blood. 8 times gold medal winner Pakistan now has come back from the Last Asian Games of 2018 medal less. The beautiful game of hockey, the delight of the Pakistani attack of Hassan Sardar Samiullah Hanif Khan Manzoor Jr and Kalimullah has been abused beyond recognition. What has been done to hockey is criminal. But that is a chapter and book separate from this story and must be told separately. The long and short of it is that Pakistan returned without a medal for hockey. The destruction of hockey and squash and the ongoing efforts to destroy cricket must be chronicled for history separately.

Read more: I can be a better sports minister in Pakistan, claims Pakistan-British boxer Amir Khan

What actually happened?

How can a sporting nation of 220 million people go down a blind alley like this? How can a sporting nation whose citizens playing for England can be world champions and playing for the country cannot be regional champions? There are multiple reasons for that. But if all these criminalities need to be described in one word it is corruption. Look at the timeline. Throughout the 60s & 70s the standard continued to go down due to nepotism, non-availability of facilities, no incentive for the sports, no training opportunity but the 80s and 90s saw a real acceleration in the spiraling deterioration.

That’s the time when sports were used for joyrides, merit was thrown to the wind. People and officials were selected just to go for joyrides as a reward for either nepotism or services performed. The grass root sports nurseries like school colleges and universities were totally ignored. The playgrounds were taken over for building apartments and china cutting. Absolutely no efforts were made to achieve any glory for Pakistan. It was all about making hay while the sun shines.

Read more: Sports narrative of Pakistan

No planning was done, no target was set. Even some of the sporting associations were hijacked by people in power who not only knew nothing about sports but did not have any interest at all. No efforts were made to ensure funds for financing sportsmen to achieve kudos for Pakistan. People in the association were more inclined to misappropriate the funds for themselves. It was a massive criminal act to kill all sports in Pakistan as everyone including the people in power was just busy minting money.

A hope for future 

Sports unite nations as nothing else does. Even in Pakistan, the whole nation becomes Pakistanis when any sporting event takes place. Maybe it’s also a part of 5thgeneration warfare to delegate the sports to also run category to demoralize a nation. We have a world-famous cricketer as our Prime Minister now. It is a recognized fact that Imran Khan loves Pakistan.

Read more: Pakistan sports industry and the olympics fiasco

A sportsman like him probably understands all the nuances of sports inside out. The nation is looking up to him to put sports back on track. Make all the necessary corrections right from the grass root level that is school colleges and universities and take us back to the glory days of the 50s. If anyone can do this then it is Imran Khan.

The author has worked for Unilever for 25 years. He is a professional translator/interpreter of five languages and is also a certified computer trainer. He is currently living in Virginia, USA. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.