1992 Barcelona Olympics, Pakistan was playing against Netherlands for 3rd position match in the Field Hockey event. After a nail biting 70 minutes contest, Pakistan won the match with the final score of 4-3 and also won the Bronze medal, last ever medal won by Pakistan in the Olympics. Ever since Pakistan appeared on the world map, a total of 18 Olympics have commenced, out of which Pakistan has participated in 17 of them. 1980 Moscow Olympics was boycotted by most of the countries including Pakistan due to Russian invasion of Afghanistan. A total of 10 medals are won in the rest of 17 Olympics, 8 of them are due to our glorious history in Field Hockey (3 Gold, 3 Silver, 2 Bronze) and 1 Bronze medal in Wrestling and Boxing each. Pakistan has a magnificent history in certain sports like Squash, Snooker, Hockey and Cricket obviously, but most of it is the result of sheer natural talent the country possesses. Olympics is the arena where the overall sports strength, significance and nurture of sports by the state is depicted. If we exclude Hockey from our Olympic history, all we are left with is just 2 Bronze medals in 17 events, which is a shame. And by every passing year, our athlete pool is receding instead of expanding which is not only a dilemma but indicates a crisis situation. In Rio Olympics 2016, only 7 athletes represented Pakistan, and almost all of them were eliminated in the first rounds. The irony is that we are not extraordinary in anything, be it science, innovation or even sports as whole.
On the other hand, it is has become customary of either U.S.A or China to top the medals table since the last few Olympics. Though the athletes from Russia, Great Britain, Australia and Canada have also made their mark and certainly share the spot light, but the leader board contest is actually between U.S.A and China. Both these countries have shown remarkable progress in every other field and now dominate the sports arena as well. Specifically talking about the sports, the reasons for absolute domination are different for either one of them which we will be talking about in detail now.
Reasons for the domination of U.S.A at Olympics
The most significant reason is that sports is deeply embedded in the culture of America. It is one of the integral part of their way of living. Throughout the country where ever you go, no matter how small a community is, you will find basketball courts, football (Rugby) fields etc. Even the US prisons have a vast area which has these courts and open air gyms because that is the way people there like to keep themselves happy and healthy; through sports. People not only like to play but also watch the sport with enthusiasm. Every culture has its way of community integration, US culture has sports.
Secondly, in USA, sports and education are complimentary to each other. From junior to high school, there are playing fields and courts where students are made to take part in active sports and inter-school competitions are organized frequently witnessing a large number of spectators including parents and folks of students. Students who are good at certain sports are appreciated equally, if not more, than the students who score good grades. As the students move toward higher education, the sports facilities keep getting better and better. Majority of the US colleges, or universities as they are known in Pakistan, have state of the art facilities which a lot of third world countries wish to have at their state level. Unlike Pakistani students, who are crushed under the academic burden at undergraduate and graduate level, most of the student in US take part in active sports. This is the reason they are not only able to produce great minds in terms of innovation but also have a dense pool of athletes to pick up for representing the country at Olympics. Understanding the significance of sports along with education, utilizing it as a mode of cultural integration and ultra-modern infrastructure, which definitely includes world-class coaches, is what has made USA almost invincible at greatest level of competition.
Reasons for the domination of China at Olympics
China and USA are seen as the top contender these days for leading the medal table at Olympics but the reason for their utter dominance are nowhere near related. China follows a top-down approach when it comes to nurturing its talent for the mega event where as USA and almost the rest of the countries follow a bottom-up approach. In latter, the athletes have to prove themselves by competing on different levels, from bottom to gradually moving toward the national ones. On the other hand, in top-down approach, as it if done in China, the kids at their early age are identified for the strength they have for a particular sport and selected to undergo training. It is a peculiarly designed program by the Chinese government and humongous funds are allocated to it.
Chinese athletes are known for their round the year structured training and the amount of hard work they put into the sports. The training cycle for athletes vary around the globe as in some countries a specific rest period is allocated but this is not the case in China. The athletes are made to practice their skills all the year till they gain impeccable ability in what they do. Due the immense funding released by the government, the best coaches from all over the world are given incentives to provide their expertise for the Chinese athletes which has depicted remarkably at the medal table recently.
Chinese athletes invest their time and energy solely to make themselves perfect to represent their country at Olympics as it is matter of pride for them and for their families. Also, the players are rewarded big times, as much as $200,000, for winning a gold medal at Olympics which for many athletes is way more than their entire family makes in a year.
Leading the world in sports over all, is the matter of pride for China as it would be for any other country. This is the reason why they invest so much on their Olympic program and which pay off evidently.
Why is Pakistan far behind?
From numerous valid reason, the most basic and self-explanatory one is that we as a nation consider sports to be of tertiary significance. As parents and elders, we believe sports to be the biggest hurdle in the bright future of our young generation. 6 hours at school and 3 hours at tuition center are no big deal, but half an hour of playing causes havoc and is blamed for the bad grades. Unlike USA, we consider education and sports to be divergent or conflicting to each other. This lack of awareness is something always going to clung our progress in sports until we rectify this thinking.
Having said that, for the past 70 years like almost everything else in the country, sports and athletics have been the subject of criminal negligence on part of government. There has been no broad policy for the flourishing of natural talent nor has the infrastructure moved impressively as it was 70 year back. Due to wave of terrorism the country is subjected to, every responsible of institution tries to cut the slack for their negligence by the most commonly used phrase “security issues”. Since the 18th amendment in the constitution, sports along with education and health has moved into the domain of provinces. Now every province is autonomous enough to take measure which the sitting government thinks might be necessary for the grooming the sports but unfortunately, nobody is ready to take sports seriously. Even in the KPK, where former star cricketer Imran Khan’s party enjoys the government, sports infrastructure hasn’t improved considerably.
Most of the talent goes down the drain because the youth does not see a future for themselves and in a country like Pakistan, where most of the families are economically compromised one cannot waste the time in something which is long shot.
What can be done to improve the situation?
First of all, we need to understand that sports is vital for the development of young generation. It prevents the youth from indulging themselves in illegal and unhealthy activities along with the nourishment of cognitive abilities to perform better in academics as well. Secondly, legislation should be done by provinces in such a way that no school shall be registered until and unless it has playground and basic sports facilities beside the necessary academic requisitions. District administration should make the schools to organize the sports competition on district level. HEC should organize inter-university mega sports event annually in which students should be made to compete in all the sports including athletics. The best performers should be provided with coaching and training facilities on state level, probably in summer break to avoid compromising the academic performance. Many legendary cricketers are often seen quoting on national television that the reason Pakistan had a world class side in the 80’s and 90’s was primarily due the trend on cricket on school, college and university level.
The advent of PSL has proved to be a talent hunt for the young cricketers across the country. Similar model involving the corporate sector should be adopted for all the sports. To make the corporations invest in the young athletes, government may adopt policies such as tax wavier for these firms etc.
It’s really a shame to see just 7 athletes participating in an Olympics event from a country which has a population of over 180 million. The situation calls for drastic measures instantly for improvement otherwise we may not be able to win a medal for the next 30 years as well.
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