Running on empty

The writer is Executive Director News, Express News. 
He tweets @fahdhusain

The writer is Executive Director News, Express News. He tweets @fahdhusain [email protected]

On Independence Day each year we review how far we have come in nearly seven decades and how much we have fallen short of targets, objectives and dreams. In the long list of critical challenges that we continue to grapple with, there is one that falls by the wayside: Sports.

This year’s Independence Day also coincides with the Rio Olympics — not that it matters to us much. But it should.

Four years ago we shamed ourselves at the London Olympics and I had put my lament and sadness into words that were published by a newspaper. It is ironic that if I replace “London” with “Rio” today, every word still reverberates with relevance. This in itself tells the woeful story of the epic disaster that we call our sports, and the utter shame that we heap on ourselves at the Olympic stage.

Words from the past haunt us still. Here goes with updates:

In London and in Rio, we got sunk in swimming, run down in running, shot down in shooting and hammered in hockey (this year the hockey team did not even qualify). This then is the long and short of Pakistan’s Olympic dreams.

For us, Rio 2016 is a microcosm of World 2016 — a grey, gloomy and dark place for a country which is overpopulated and underfed. Like our athletes, the whole nation is surviving on the global stage as a wildcard entry. Sure, we make the headlines and even the front pages, but again like our swimmers, runners and shooters, we rarely survive the heats and end up limping back to the dressing room while others wave to the world from victory stands.

The story of our Olympic woes is the story of our national woes. It is a story told and re-told every day in drawing room fables, roadside narratives and talk show tales. The chronicles we weave so lovingly paint a photoshopped reality of the state we live in; a fiction we so desperately want to believe that often we end up doing exactly that.

We are told the fiction that our swimmer sunk because we don’t have enough pools; our runner got run down because we can’t afford world-class coaches, our shooter shot himself in the foot because he is not provided a competitive environment; and our hockey got clobbered because we can’t cope with technology — it is an endless list of half-baked explanations and half-cooked justifications which point to one, and only one depressing conclusion: we cannot face the hard truth.

This hard truth is right here, bang centre in front of our eyes, but we seem to look through it. Prisoners of our own “Once Upon a Time” narrative, we still tell ourselves we can win gold medals and smash world records if, and only if, we turn more sincere and spend more money.

Right. Humpty Dumpty believed he could never fall off the wall.

Our sports scene is one big messy heap surrounded by a stench of failed policies shoddily crafted by pseudo-experts and backed by their myopic official sponsors. Yes there’s big talk and bigger claims; yes there’s tall pronouncements and taller promises; and yes for sure there’s a veritable army of ministers, secretaries, director generals, patrons, managers and assorted hanger-ons who lap up financial crumbs like starved puppies and wag their tails in delight. But one thing is missing: Vision.

And as always, vision comes from the top. One man, one job, one target. Simple.

The Prime Minister has to issue a notification which may go something like this: “I hereby appoint Mr./ as the new Sports Czar of Pakistan with the status of a Federal Minister. All sports affairs and all sports organisations at all levels will fall in his domain(minus cricket which is a universe in its own). I vest in him all powers necessary to achieve the target assigned to him within the stipulated time frame. The target is ten gold/silver/bronze medals for Pakistan in the 2020Olympics. He/she will be solely responsible for success, and for failure with attached glory — or shame.”

The first task of the Sports Czar will be to cut through the haze and grasp the hard truth. His mission then will be to slash and burn the corrupt, incompetent and useless sports bureaucracy that has stifled talent and promoted petty self-interest. The Czar will need to decapitate fat cats with fancy titles, fancier job descriptions and fanciful ideas dressed up as policy.

Then the Czar has to undertake a trip to China. Other than emerging as a global sporting powerhouse, China is one country that has helped Pakistan in virtually everything that is strategically vital to us — nuclear development, defence production, infrastructure development, ports and shipping and much more. And of course, the blockbuster CPEC. Why not sports then? China has hosted the Olympics and is one of the top medal winners every four years. Everything there is to learn about success at the Olympics China can teach.

Can we afford the expense required? Absolutely. For starters, a major re-prioritisation is required. Junk hockey. Millions of rupees are spent on a team that has clearly fallen of the ledge. And plus, all that money, all those astroturfs, all these officials and experts crawling out of the woodwork, all that petty politics and ego-clashes, all of this for what? One medal!

Contrast this with the glorious possibilities that await us in individual sports like Track and Field, Swimming, Boxing, Weightlifting, Rowing, Archery, Wrestling, Judo, and Gymnastics. Does the name Michael Phelps ring a bell? He with the twenty two Olympic gold medals to his name?

And all this at a fraction of the cost incurred on team sports. But all this boils down to one man with one target and one vision, insulated from political pressures and petty politics.

In the national scheme of things, this is a minuscule project. But the payoffs are great. We can continue battling the demons of the Democracy project and its governance off-shoots like the energy crisis, we can continue crossing swords with perennial problems of poverty, illiteracy and economic stagnation, but the Sports Czar can produce time-barred results which will generate national and international dividends and spur hope where none exists today.

We have the talent, we have the manpower, we have the youth bulge and the demographic dividend, and we have the hunger for glory and a thirst for medals. All we need is a focus, a target and a single-minded approach.

Our Usain Bolts and Michael Phelps are waiting for the opportunity to prove themselves like our Javed Miandads, Imran Khans and Wasim Akrams. If only our wretched sports bureaucracy would let them.

Original news :