Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem
Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem missed out on a medal, finishing 5th in the men’s javelin throw at the Tokyo Olympics Image Credit: AFP

When a 10-member Pakistani squad left for the Tokyo Olympics, there were prayers, hopes and statements of anticipation but not many thought that they would do wonders in the land of the rising sun. Now that the global games gala has come to an end, the low expectations have come true.

Pakistan remains medal-less. Its two high points came in the men’s javelin throw and weightlifting categories when Talha Talib topped the table for a while but ended up 5th in the final result as others surpassed his performance that thrilled his countrymen, if only for a while. It was a repeat situation last when Arshad Nadeem qualified for the javelin final but on the day was short on the strength and notched the fifth slot.

In those tense days, both athletes gave the nation its best moments in the competition. Praise flowed from all sides and special messages poured in from Pakistani celebrities and sports fellows alike wishing them the best of luck and bucking them up to break the medal jinx.

But wishes are not horses and athletes don’t fly on the wing of prayers alone. Global competition results are the ultimate test of human effort, combined with scientific training that requires infrastructure, resources and above all consistent patronage and deliberate planning.

No medal for three decades

The Chinese for instance always get a bagful of gold by targeting those sports that are funds-starved in other countries. Nations that have water-based sports as part of their culture maximise their advantage by marking talent at very early stage, pushing ahead of others when the bell rings.

Smaller countries with limited human resources focus on a smaller range of competitions and try to muster for themselves well-earned glory. There is a reason why Jamaicans or Kenyans confine themselves mostly to the tracks. Others like the US use their size and resources and throw the net so wide that they are bound to do well.

But big or small, countries that participate in the Olympics are required to prepare years before these are announced and demand relentless effort. Pakistan has not had a medal in the last 30 years. Some of the sports that earned it the top position at the standing podiums have fallen into a bad state.

Hockey, the national game, has declined to a point where the country did not even qualify for the past two Olympics. The complaint that you hear from everyone is about resource and funding difficulties and directionless policies.

Media reports have quoted the javelin-thrower Arshad underlining the disorganised way he trained for Tokyo. “I did not train at one place. I have trained at different places. To have a ground to train, sometimes I would go to the Punjab Stadium and sometimes to other places. I could not get all the facilities at one place,” he told a media person.

The story of Talha is even more instructive. According to reports, Talha, coached by his father, had to seek assistance from Palestine’s coach at the main event, because his own coach wasn’t allowed to be with him. He too has given several interviews to media in which he mentioned how his training regime wasn’t good enough.

Need to pull up the socks

Pakistan has an Olympics Association. It has a Sports Board. Both these bodies are designed to bring up and polish talent that can make a good showing at the world’s largest sports theatre. They claim that they are doing their best under the given circumstances.

And it is not as if there is no attention to the plight of sports in Pakistan. Prime Minister, Imran Khan, whose claim to fame is the 1992 Cricket World Cup victory, acknowledged the unsatisfactory state of affairs and stated that since he had a keen interest in sports, he would use his insights and experience to bring the standard up.

If harnessed the right way, Pakistan’s sports potential can shine in hockey, squash, volley ball, soccer, tennis and other games. There is no lack of passion or public interest in sports. Quite the contrary, the country is crazy about sports.

But crazy energy and raw talent alone can’t do big things on their own. They can create freak chances at best or produce momentary joys and thrills but getting listed on the all important medal’s table is a different ballgame. Talha and Nadeem however prove that Pakistan can be in serious reckoning in sports if only it could pull up its socks and learn from the disheartening experience of the Tokyo Olympics.

Syed Talat Hussain is a prominent Pakistani journalist and writer. Twitter: @TalatHussain12