As I think about sports and the countries that have been exhibiting sporting prowess, my mind automatically directs me to the great sporting nations such as United States, Russia, China, Australia, Great Britain and Germany. Safely nestled in nestled in a galaxy far, far away is Pakistan. While most countries are putting great emphasis on excelling at sports, Pakistan is moving in the completely opposite direction. Sports in Pakistan have managed to consistently reach new lows, with victories at major sporting events seeming almost unfathomable.
This was not always the case as in the bulk of the mid 1900’s Pakistan was a force to be reckoned with. This period can aptly be termed as the golden period in Pakistani sports where the country would routinely churn out world-class athletes in a wide array of sports and assert dominance in many international events.
While thinking about Pakistan’s fall from sporting grace, squash is perhaps the biggest tragedy that the country has suffered. The stellar period for Pakistan Squash was between 1982-1997 when squash legends Jahangir and Jansher Khan asserted complete dominance over the sport. A taste of Pakistan’s utter dominance over the sport can be realized through the fact that from 1981-1996, Jahangir Khan went unbeaten in a mammoth 555 competitive matches! Amongst themselves, Jahangir and Jansher left no stone unturned as they retained the British Open title throughout this period as well as cruising through the World Open title for a staggering 14 years.
These highs were shortly followed up with the lowest of lows. Jahangir and Jansher’s retirement from international squash left a gaping hole in Pakistani Squash that is yet to be filled. It is heart rending to see that after 1997, the country once regarded as the sole force of squash, has not managed to claim a single British Open or World Open title. Pakistan’s rapid descend from squash supremacy is accurately summarized by Jahangir’s quote to sports360.com, "There was a time when we used to have seven players in top 10 of the world while today we have only one player in top 50."
Squash is not the only sport where Pakistan has managed to stunt its progress. Hockey in the nation has faced a similar plummet. Once considered an integral part of any major hockey tournament; the Pakistan hockey team has now been making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The hockey teams appalling performances resulted it not making the Hockey World Cup as well as the Summer Olympics.
The decline of hockey was neither sudden nor unexpected. Sheer neglect has resulted in the collapse of its façade. This was not always the case from Pakistan’s national sport. Pakistan’s hockey team took the world by storm when it managed to reach the finals of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Hockey’s unprecedented popularity can be gauged by the fact that the sport surpassed cricket and clinched the title of Pakistan’s national sport. Perhaps the pinnacle of Pakistan hockey was when the nascent side defeated the Indian team in the 1960 Rome Olympics to win its first Olympic medal. The Pakistan side had not simply asserted dominance over the sport, but it also made sweeping changes to it. Pakistani as well as Indian players introduced the phenomenon of dribbling, characterized by displaying immense control and skill on the ball. Pakistan carried on this wave of success as it managed to reach yet another Olympic final in 1964. It would be accurate to say that Pakistan were routinely manufacturing legendary hockey players as the team once again managed to secure an Olympic gold medal in 1968, at Mexico.
The side continued its momentum as it continued to prosper as the number one side in Hockey till 1978. Following this period the team slowly began to degenerate and ever since 1994, Pakistan’s once world-class hockey team has now been on a drought of medals in any major international competition.
The passionate Pakistani table tennis fans can vividly recollect the team’s brilliant performances during the 1980’s and the 1990’s. The Pakistan table tennis team was thriving in cutthroat competitions of international table tennis as it ranked 6th in Asia in 1984 and 1990. The team was frequently participating in international competitions and international coaches were hired to unearth and showcase the vast potential of the players.
The driving force in Pakistan’s ascend to fame in table tennis was none other than the legendary Saiyid Muhammad Sibtain. Sibtain was an integral part in promoting the game, which resulted in a boom in its popularity in Pakistan. His valiant efforts led to the elevated stature of the sport in Pakistan, with players travelling frequently to participate in international competitions. A relentless force in the world of table tennis, Pakistan hosted the 1986 Asian Table Tennis Cup in Karachi as well as the region’s Olympic qualifiers in 1988. Karachi was a major contributor to the development and burgeoning success of the game in Pakistan.
The scene was especially bursting at the club level with clubs such as the Islamia Club, Sharfabad Club, St John’s, YMCA or Amroha Club attracting a huge sum of spectators. Like most of the sports in Pakistan, table tennis too had a very short life span. The sport came tumbling down when Sibtain stepped down in 1990, leaving the sport to wither away. Ranked 84th in the international table tennis federation rankings, table tennis is yet another example of Pakistan’s failure to maintain and increase its dominance in any sport.
Despite this bleak picture, sports in Pakistan have the ability to be resurrected. This revival of sports in general requires sweeping changes made to the infrastructure and the mindset on Pakistan’s athletes. Jahangir Khan has attributed Pakistan lackluster perform in squash as a result of a "lack of commitment, passion and discipline" for the sport.
A huge impediment to sport in Pakistan is the lack of international sporting events being held in Pakistan. Due to the security threat and deteriorating law and order situation in Pakistan, the Professional Squash Association had imposed a ban on international entries appearing in its tournaments in Pakistan. This ban deprived the people of Pakistan of squash and its removal will make way for the game to regain its foothold in the country. Without foreign competitions being held in the countries sports is failing to provide the same excitement and passion its once did to the Pakistani fans. This has unfortunately led to the decrease in love for sport in the country.
Negligence is perhaps the main factor contributing to the decline of any sport in Pakistan. Squash too is no exception to this trend as in contradiction to Pakistan’s old and under maintained squash facilities many countries have allocated increasing funding for the development of the game. This negligence also extends to the everyday people who are generally unaware of the game.
An inherent flaw in Pakistan’s sports façade is the lack of impact schools and colleges have had on sports. Sports at school and college level are in a dire state with no proper coaching staff to breed athletes at an early age. Due to the decreasing enforcement of sports and these junior levels Pakistan is consistently producing fewer athletes.
This is not the only negative externality that lack of education has had on sports in Pakistan. The players represented the country in most sports are now generally coming from uneducated backgrounds. Unlike the past where athletes mainly had an educational base, these uneducated sportspersons are more vulnerable to bribery and unfair play as poor finances generally burden them. The sports federations must not only educate the players but they must compensate them enough for them to comfortably sustain their lives. The stature of sports in Pakistan must be elevated from a hobby to a serious and sufficient profession.
Sports such as hockey have faded in Pakistan generally due to the drought of funding for the sport. This negligence, the cry of almost all sports in Pakistan, is coupled with the immense corruption that has seeped into the Pakistan Hockey Federation has rendered this sport almost dormant. Perhaps the biggest reason leading to Pakistan’s stagnation in Hockey is the shift to Astroturf. Lacking sufficient astro turf fields, the Pakistani players lack the flair and flamboyance that they would previously portray on cement pitches. The PHF must allocate funding for the construction of these fields and synthetic turf fields must be made in various schools and colleges in Pakistan. Without these initiatives, hockey in Pakistan will continue to wither away.
The sports scenario in Pakistan almost sounds like a broken record. The country seems to be following an established pattern of greatly excelling at a particular sport and eventually letting the sport decay slowly and shamefully. I am part of the 182 million Pakistani’s who bow our heads in shame and feel gripping pain when we think about the sporting affairs of our country. A country that has been an example and an inspiration for the rest of the world now ceases to inspire college students in pursuing a career in sport. In saying that, I truly believe that there is still hope.