Rio Olympics and the dismal state of sports in Pakistan | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 19.07.2016
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Rio Olympics and the dismal state of sports in Pakistan

Apart from seven wild card entries, no athlete from Pakistan - a nation of some 200 million people - is participating in upcoming Olympics. What are the reasons behind the decline of sports in the South Asian country?

Many people in Pakistan find it embarrassing that for the first time in the nation's sporting history not a single Pakistani athlete has qualified to participate in Olympics. Pakistan boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics due to political reasons.

Pakistan is a sports-loving nation, which once prided itself on producing extraordinary athletes, mostly in the game of hockey and squash. The country's hockey team, which won various Olympic medals in the 1980s and 1990s, has not performed well for quite some time.

Equally disappointing is the state of squash in Pakistan. Once a hugely successful sport in the South Asian country, which produced legendary players like Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan, there is not a single player now who can reach the same heights.

Pakistan's flag bearer Sohail Abbas (C) holds the national flag as he leads the contingent in the athletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012 (Photo: REUTERS/Mike Blake)

Pakistan had a decent participation in the 2012 London Olympics

While cricket remains hugely popular, all other sports have seen a big decline in the past two decades. The reason, some experts say, is the corporatization of sports in Pakistan, with government paying almost no attention to nurturing talented players and providing them sporting facilities and guidance.

Tariq Saeed, DW's correspondent in Lahore, says that next month, only seven Pakistani athletes will participate in Rio Olympics, and that too on a "wild card."

"The wild card athletes are taking part in the judo, swimming and shooting competitions," Saeed said.

According to Arif Hasan, the president of the Pakistan Olympic Association, the seven athletes have "no chance" of winning medals. "They are more or less going for the participation and gaining the experience. Let's hope next time will be better," he told the Reuters news agency.

State neglect

Government patronage and a lack of sporting facilities have left the country's gyms and playing grounds in a dilapidated condition. Pakistani athletes say the outdated equipment and obsolete training methods are the reasons why they cannot compete in international competitions.

Khalid Mahmood, the secretary of Pakistan's Olympic Association, told DW the reason for the extraordinary decline in sports in Pakistan is a lack of funding. "Pakistan's sports budget is the lowest in South Asia, less than that of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and even Afghanistan," Mahmood pointed out.

He added that government officials were not interested in investing in anything other than cricket.

Waqar Ahmed, deputy director of the Pakistan Sports Board, said federations could not afford to hire good coaches that are familiar with modern training techniques.

"Athletes are really frustrated because... the coaches are not literate and they have been teaching what they were taught 30 years back," he said. "Without infrastructure we can do a lot, but without the techniques you cannot win."

Hockey's lost glory

Until the early 1990s, Pakistan's hockey team was as good as its national cricket squad. Out of ten Olympic medals the country had won between 1948 and 2012, the hockey team had secured eight. However, the hockey team, too, has not qualified to take part in the 2016 Olympics.

"Hockey used to be the sporting identity of our country, but due to the wrong policies it is now in a shambles," Naveed Alam, a former hockey player who was part of the team that won a medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, told DW.

Hockey Pakistan Lahore Team Spieler und Trainer Nationales Hockeystadion

Out of ten Olympic medals Pakistan had won between 1948 and 2012, the hockey team had secured eight

The government introduced a sports policy 12 years ago, but to date it has not been implemented, Alam underlined.

Sports journalist Muhammad Yaqoob holds the government responsible for the situation: "Officials are only interested in securing their jobs in the Olympic Association. The Pakistan Sports Board created parallel Olympic associations, appointing their cronies to top positions. All the energies were spent on politics; no one spent anytime preparing for the Rio games," Yaqoob told DW.

More hurdles for women athletes

For women athletes, the conditions are even worse. They are not allowed to train outdoors and there is hardly any support for talented young girls from their families.

Pakistan Olympic chief Arif Hasan believes societal "barriers are coming down" for women, but many female athletes don't agree with him.

Pakistani cricketer Shahid Afridi (L) unsuccessfully appeals for a Leg Before Wicket (LBW) decision against Bangladesh batsman Mushfiqur Rahim (R) during the Asia Cup T20 cricket tournament match between Bangladesh and Pakistan at The Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium in Dhaka on March 2, 2016 (Photo: MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

While cricket remains a hugely popular sport in the country, all other sports have seen a big decline

"Usually in Pakistan girls are discouraged from sports, and often coaches push back," said Neelam Riaz, who last year became a national champion and Pakistan's first female weightlifter to compete abroad.

"Now my family is happy with me doing weightlifting," she told Reuters.

Sports analysts and experts say the fact that no Pakistani athlete has qualified to Rio Olympics should be a wake-up call for the government and the country's sporting authorities. They urge officials to start preparing for the 2020 games at the earliest.

Additional reporting by Tariq Saeed, DW's correspondent in Lahore.

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