Oh, why did I even bother to watch the Pakistani athletes compete at the Olympics? I knew nothing good’s going to come out of them at all. Not because these athletes are not competent enough, but because the state of sport in the nation is an utter joke.
Pakistani Women Athletes
Pakistani medal hopefuls (I can’t even say that with a straight face) were anything but. Let’s start with the worst of the lot – the women. Pardon me for being so blunt; and, I really don’t mean to talk less of the fairer sex in Pakistan. But, the Pakistani women athletes were a mere disappointment. I am probably not the only Pakistani thinking so. Pakistan had two female athletes competing at the London 2012 Olympics – Anum Bandey (Swimming – Women’s 400m Individual Medley) and Rabia Aashiq (Athletics – Women’s 800m Race).
Anum Bandey was a wildcard entrant to the London 2012 Pakistani line-up – which is a fancy way of saying that she didn’t really deserve the place but the Olympic committee just thought of giving her a chance anyway. Nevertheless, the moment she climbed by the side of the pool to dive into a career-building and perhaps the most important race of her life, teenage hearts throughout the nation skipped a beat.
Fingers crossed, the Pakistani people were secretly hoping the swimmer would at least climb to a winning position in the first of the 400m Individual Medley heats. After all, how hard is that to achieve in a race where there are only four swimmers competing against one another.
The 15-year old Pakistani Olympic hopeful dove in the waters and everything went downhill from there. Other swimmers would be finishing their second laps when Anum reached the end of her first. She managed to beat her personal best but every Pakistani hope sank in that pool when she came last. Shame is such small a word to describe what the Pakistani people felt. She came fourth, beating her personal record at mark 5:34.64 (with a difference of +44.32 to the winning Thi Anh Vien Nguyen of Vietnam; and +41.10 behind Noora Laukkanen of Finland at 3rd place).
Anum was accepted into the Olympics line-up for Pakistan after her performance at the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) 2011 World Aquatics Championships at Shanghai, China. She participated in the Women’s 200m Breaststroke and the 400m Individual Medley ranking at 38 (mark 2:58.85) and 36 (mark 5:37.11) respectively without advancing to the semi-finals. While swimming at the Barnet Copthall Swimming Club, she became the third Pakistani female swimmer to receive an Olympic wildcard.
The last hopes of a medal for Pakistan lay with Rabia Aashiq competing in the Women’s 800m Race. My hopes were instantly shattered when even before the race started, a commentator casually expressed that Aashiq was going to end behind the six others competing in the race. Oh, and guess what? Rabia was also a wildcard entrant. Isn’t any Pakistani woman skilled enough? I was tempted to look away and do something worthwhile. The leading contenders in the race were Yuliya Krevsun of Ukraine, Pamela Jelimo of Kenya and Lynsey Sharp of Great Britain. I would be better off supporting these three than a person who wore the wrong tights to the race – let me tell you, if you are running a track race, wearing those particular tights would only slow you down. If it’s a matter of decency then a burqa might even have been faster. The only tights to work in such conditions are the CW-X Pro running tights which aren’t really that expensive as well.
Keeping it halal, our contender reached the post at the sixth position with mark 2:17.39. But then again, she wasn’t last at all. She actually beat one of the top contenders, i.e., Yuliya Krevsun of Ukraine – not because she ran faster but because Krevsun opted out of the race at the 200m mark. Watching the race, I was disappointed as was every other Pakistani – not for Aashiq taking up the second-last position, but because she was running for a friend of hers who had just died. That should be motivation in itself for any athlete to perform well. Perhaps, it was the cold London breeze that somehow climbed through all that attire and froze her bones.
God only knows why our athletes couldn’t even try to do well at the Olympics. These two female athletes didn’t even appear to be giving their best. It seemed more like they actually competed in the Olympics to tell their peers back home that they did so and in essence brag about it. In Rabia’s case, it is even harder to understand where she lacked motivation. She was clearly overwhelmed in the London arena and looked quite nervous before the start of the race.
Rabia is perhaps the only athlete in the whole Pakistani squad that got a fair amount of limelight and exposure in the media. She was able to score a sponsorship deal with national telecom provider Zong, and had journalists from all over the world interview her. She talked of how excited she was to participate in the Olympics but she didn’t look the part before the race.
Some Sincere Suggestions
I do not want this blog post to be an outright criticism of the way things are dealt with in Pakistan, and therefore I would like to put across some very sincere suggestions. I only hope that game programmers and organisers in Pakistan heed my advice in the very simplest of forms.
Image and the Zeitgeist
Pakistani sportsmen and -women have everything at their disposal. The only thing they lack is effective PR. As Pakistanis, we are exposed to all sorts of crap coming out of the idiot box day in and day out. Politicians are up to each others’ necks shouting and cussing their competitors on national prime-time television almost every day. The only way that the media can truly help in this respect is by exposing these young upstarts in the sporting arena by praising (or at least highlighting) their efforts.
The most brilliant example of the national media highlighting their Olympics (in this case, the Paralympic) team at London 2012 is this little gem of an advertisement running on Channel 4 for the Paralympic games.
Cricket is Overrated
Much of the sponsorship deals are usually presented on silver platters to the nation’s cricketers who do nothing but misuse the honour they are given. In my opinion, it is the unsung heroes – the athletes being one of them – who actually deserve being an ambassador for these brands. Coke and Pepsi go out of their way to place their products in the hands of the undeserving cricketers and overlook the potential in our athletes. I sincerely hope that Zong continues to favour Rabia even after she didn’t manage to secure a position in the actual games. Rabia can definitely serve to be an effective role-model and brand ambassador for a brand like Zong Flutter. Same goes for Anum.
As far as I am concerned, I wouldn’t be buying a drink if Shahid Afridi is selling it; however, if it’s Anum or Rabia, I might give it a go. And so would thousands of youngsters – especially girls. That’s a potential market for any product. Give the young boys and girls something to aspire to and hand the products to a younger, more deserving sports persons.
Who’s to Blame Then?
I think it is irrational to blame the athletes at all. Athletes in countries like the United Kingdom and Australia have this effective support system. Athletes are personally looked over and trained by coaches. I often hear Pakistani athletes voice their concerns in saying they need foreign coaches. I do not agree at all. Firstly, that is going to be way too expensive for organisations like the Atheletics Federation of Pakistan (AFP); and secondly, athletes might not get to build that special relationship of trust with such hired coaches.
In my opinion, it’s the sporting organisations such as the AFP that should be delegated the ultimate blame for such poor performance of the athletes. They should go out of their ways to promote these athletes in any way possible.
Sack Jakhrani and Devise a Better Sport Policy
Agriculturist by profession and a former Federal Minister for Health, Mir Aijaz Hussain Khan Jakhrani is the current Federal Minister for Sport in Pakistan. My last and most sincere opinion is to sack this guy and get someone actually affiliated with sports to head this position.
While talking of sacking a government official, it is far more likely that the government might just get away by devising and introducing an effective sport policy. A policy that would allow for more national gaming competitions to be organised with the country itself. Ah, but sacking Jakhrani is much easier. Don’t you agree?