Our athletes’ plight in the time of coronavirus

April 12, 2020

At a time when sports stars of India are contributing hefty amounts to the fight against coronavirus, our athletes are not even able to train because of lack of resources

The COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed Pakistan’s sports sector because of lack of solid policies and no zeal for its development, particularly from the state authorities.

In India federations and players of various sports disciplines are contributing to the Prime Minister’s fund established for coping with the problems created by the coronavirus issue. In Pakistan, the situation is exactly the opposite as the federations are themselves in need of support from the state and NGOs in this pressing time.

We have never focussed on the well-being of our athletes. Had we paid attention to the sports sector and provided incentives to the athletes they could have not only won major international medals for the country but could have been contributors to the struggle to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

My heart is bleeding after I saw videos of a hockey player and some boxers and athletes undergoing fitness training at their poor quality homes. How will the new generation get motivation to adopt sports as career when they see this situation!

I was surprised a few days ago when I received a news from the Ministry of IPC saying that a fund has been created to help those sportspersons affected by coronavirus. There is a big lesson to be learnt. Had we given weightage to sports like the developed world has, our athletes would not have needed any support but they would have rather supported the nation in this tough time. We have kept the standard of our athletes so low that they cannot serve the nation at this stage the way they could have.

In India, Rohit Sharma the cricketer alone gave 8 million Indian rupees to the Prime Minister’s fund. Their tennis, badminton, boxing stars and athletes of other disciplines and even Hockey India and other federations have contributed to the fund.

Our federations have nothing in their kitty. After state stopped its funding most of the federations have opted against keeping their secretariats and rather decided to run federations from their homes. They cannot pay monthly rent and utility bills of their secretariats. How can they help the nation!

When the athletes around the globe are busy doing workouts in their homes during lockdown with standard equipment and gyms at their disposal at their homes, our athletes don’t even have space in their homes to do light training.

Even those athletes who have qualified for Tokyo Olympics don’t have equipment to train at their homes. We don’t have even equipment at the major sports centres of the country. A few days ago, Pakistan’s Japan-based Olympian judoka Shah Hussain told me that if gyms are closed Pakistani athletes should bring gyms to their homes. When I told him that they can’t afford that, he said state and federations should support them. I told him that the federations can’t even support themselves. He was disappointed.

Barring Pakistan’s top cricketers who have made some money, national sportsmen don’t even own a car. They mostly use motorcycles. Let’s change this poor culture. We need to convert sports into a big industry. In foreign countries athletes are earning a lot. If we invest in our sports it will produce sports personalities who would win medals in major international events. This will open floodgates for them to join the world’s top leagues in their respective sports. This will help Pakistan boost foreign remittances and we will produce such financially stable players who will not become burden for the state but will lift burden of the nation.

In some disciplines such as volleyball we can compete at the Asian level. Our kabaddi players earn handsome money in foreign leagues. Around four of our volleyball players play leagues in Asia and a dozen of kabaddi players play leagues in England and Canada. Their financial position is good. If you improve your general sports standard it will help the players and country. But our government does not think about these things. Sports these days is equally important like education. If you create a sports country you will create a healthy society. After overcoming the current pandemic our government should start working on imposing a sports emergency in the country. It is absolutely necessary as a huge chunk of our population is involved in sports. Our sports organisers earn millions through sports but the players still need to be supported. We should protect their future. Pakistan’s sports authorities are in good financial state but our athletes are poor. Let’s change the system. The coronavirus pandemic should open our eyes.

The PTI government does not do anything for sports despite being led by a sportsman. It should contribute to the sports sector so that our athletes can feel proud.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

Our athletes’ plight in the time of coronavirus