No one is calling for the building of a sporting steamroller like that of the USA or Russia, but even some attention paid to this neglected sector would yield dividends. It was perhaps encouraging to see weightlifter Talha Talib being celebrated for coming in fourth at the Tokyo Olympics, and uplifting to see it pointed out that he was only 2 kg short of the bronze medal (and 12 kg short of the gold medal) in the 67 kg weightlifting event. However, the fact remains that he will come back from Tokyo without a medal. Worse results have come in for other sports, with eliminations of the Pakistani contenders in women’s badminton and men’s 10-metre air pistol events. Pakistan is not out, with representatives ‘in the men’s 100 kg judo, the women’s 50-metre freestyle swimming, and the men’s 25-metre rapid fire pistol events still to compete but barring a miracle, it seems the contingent is going to come back without having won a single medal.
The decline of hockey, where Pakistan would pick up either gold or silver, its last medal in that sport being gold in1984, to the point where it does not even qualify to compete, might show where the problem lies. Athletes in various sports are left to fend for themselves in both training and travelling, while the government offers them no resources. Cricket, to which the Prime Minister owes his coming into prominence, has only received some money because of worldwide television revenue. However, it is not an Olympic sport.
While team games like cricket and hockey are important, individual sports like athletics and swimming, can play a significant role in character development. But excellence in such sports is based on large numbers practicing them at the school and college level. The government should put resources into sports not because it wants to win medals at Olympics, but because it is good for young people. The medals will follow automatically. If Pakistan can put its young population into school, and provide vibrant sports programmes, it would find it an investment in its youth worthy of a country whose Prime Minister was once captain of a national team, though admittedly not of an Olympic sport.