Recounting Pakistan’s great sporting successes in Asia
Once upon a time, Pakistan was truly an all-round sporting nation – producing podium performances at the Asian and the Commonwealth Games as a matter of routine in a number of sports. The mid 1950s, when the nascent nation for the first time took part in the Asian Games in 1954 (having given a miss to the inaugural event in 1951 at New Delhi, perhaps for reasons more political than sporting) is the starting point of the book. And in its first entry in the continental event Pakistan finished fourth, behind Japan, the Philippines and South Korea, and more importantly beat India (the number two at home in the previous Games) to the fifth position.
Hockey was still to make its debut in the Asian Games, and when it did in 1958, Pakistan promptly won the gold at India’s expense and, with China not participating, again finished fourth with Indian languishing lower down the order. Our athletes set the tracks ablaze, while our spikers, weightlifters and wrestlers too made their presence felt.
This and many other vignettes one would find scattered aplenty in Muhammad Ali’s labour of love that has resulted in his first comprehensive book on the country’s glorious sporting achievements at the continental level. This all-round sporting performance was a legacy, like so many other efficient systems like the Railways (to pluck a stray example) of the Raj. The education system was geared towards promoting all-round excellence, and sports were a very important, nay essential part, of the extra-curricular activity with clubs in a whole raft of sporting disciplines also throwing up talent that was of a very high standard.
At the top of it, the organizers and volunteers were imbued with a spirit that the nascent nation made a mark in the sporting arenas of the world. And Pakistan Army, the Railways and the Customs, the two biggest employers in the public sector then, with PIA coming on line a few years down the stream and making a significant contribution towards national excellence in sports and culture, were in the forefront in employing and sponsoring sportsmen. The net result was an environment in which sports were valued, with sportsmen put on a pedestal as larger than life figures.
All this you can find in Muhammad Ali’s commendable compendium of Pakistan’s record at the Asian level – right from the Independence up to 2013.
At the book launch, the chief guest Wasim Akram, a class fellow of the editor and compiler of the hardbound book in full colour, said words to the effect that right from his school days Ali’s focus was extraordinary. As Ali was an understudy of this reviewer in The Nation, one can vouch that Akram could not have nailed it better – almost at a par with his trademark dismissals with those precision guided missiles that in his heyday left so many at the other end of the popping crease with toes crushed and in the process made him the greatest southpaw to have stepped onto a cricket green.
Ali indeed is a tenacious fellow, and this book is a true manifestation of this most valuable of traits. He confided in this writer that it had taken him 18 months in research and gathering the material for the book. He is being modest. It has indeed taken him 23 years, the length of his career as a sports journalist (and this is not counting his many years as a national colour in table tennis) to be able to produce his magnum opus.
Much of this record does not exist elsewhere, to the extent that even our national federations are not in possession of it, which makes the book all the more valuable for reference. That the narrative is interspersed with some rare photographs only enhances the value of the book.
It is indeed a tremendous effort on Ali’s part to recount the highs of Pakistan sport from its inception right down to the present day. Even in these grim times, past victories and the continental, and in some sports global, ascendency of Pakistan sports can bring a spontaneous smile of recognition to the initiated and be a ready source of enlightenment and education for the upcoming generations of sportsmen, who are by and large not in the know about the past greatness.
This book fills a huge void as very few people had previously undertaken the task of compiling, which is in effect, the history of Pakistan sports in all disciplines from Athletics to Wushu, with the author’s industry and thoroughness. Also helpfully included is the country’s performance in Asian Games ranging from 1951 to 2010.
Sports Achievements in Asia:
Edited & Compiled by: Muhammad Ali
Pages: 268; Price: Rs2,000/- (Hardbound)