Cricket is a hugely popular sport, but Pakistan also exudes a palpable enthusiasm for other sports across the board. With the ongoing quarrels between the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) and the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) over the regulations of governing sports in the country, it’s no surprise that some sports are overshadowed by the imposing influence that cricket holds over the country’s sporting masses.
Mohammed Khalid Mahmood, Secretary-General, National Olympic Committee (NOC), Pakistan, explains to GN Focus that his organisation will do everything to ensure other sports enjoy the same success as cricket. “We know how important sport is to the youth of Pakistan, so we are developing many sports at the grassroots level, and the government is investing a lot of money in this idea,” says Mahmood.
Pakistan’s national hockey team has been a very successful outfit. They have won three Olympic gold medals and four hockey World Cup tournaments. They are currently ranked number eight in the world among high-quality opposition.
“Hockey is Pakistan’s national sport; it is popular and our team is very good. We have won every medal and trophy possible, and hockey always gives us the chance of a gold medal at the Olympics,” says Mahmood.
Although hockey is the national sport and cricket by far the most popular; the sport Pakistan achieved most success is in squash. Pakistan dominated squash like no other for the best part of five decades. Between 1950 and 1997, Pakistan amassed over 30 British Open titles and 14 World Open titles. In the 1980s and 1990s Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan reigned supreme in the world of squash.
“Unfortunately, since Jahangir and Jansher stopped playing, there has been less interest in the country because no one is as good. Now we are building new facilities and squash courts in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad to encourage more people to take up the sport,” says Mahmood.
Despite being one of the founders of the Asian Games, athletics is a sporting area of waning interest for Pakistanis. They have never won an Olympic medal in the ancient discipline.
“The standard of athletics has got worse in Pakistan, this is because everyone wants to play cricket. With the investment in grassroots level athletics, we’re trying to generate more interest in the sport. And our involvement in the London Olympics is a good opportunity to do that,” says Mahmood.
Kabaddi, however, is still a sport of great interest and excitement for Pakistanis. It is played in all parts of Pakistan, especially rural areas, in keeping with its cultural derivation. “Pakistan loves the sport of Kabaddi, and we’re one of the best in the world. It’s a game of great historical and cultural significance to us and we’re making sure it continues to be played throughout the country,” says Mahmood.
Soccer is a hugely popular sport in Pakistan, and the standard is still developing domestically, with the 16-team Pakistan Premier League regulated by the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF). “Pakistanis still need to improve in soccer. But with the popularity of the game in Asia, developing young players and getting them interested won’t be a problem,” says Mahmood.