Pakistan has never been a powerhouse Olympic nation. It has won just ten Olympic medals since first competing at the 1948 Games in London.
Pakistan’s first medal came in field hockey at the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956 when it won silver losing to arch rivals India 1-0.
It should come as no surprise that Pakistan’s first gold medal came in field hockey four years later when they beat India in the Gold medal match.
In fact from 1948 until 1976 Pakistan reached the semi final at every Olympic Games, and made four consecutive finals from 1960- 1972, winning two gold and two silver medals.
In fact eight of Pakistan’s ten Olympic medals have come from Hockey, the other two in wrestling and boxing.
So when the Hockey team failed to qualify for Rio it was a major blow to the nation.
Pakistan’s hockey team has been on the demise for several years, with no teams flying to Pakistan to play them, and therefore funding becoming a major issue as the team flies to tournaments to remain competitive on the world stage. Money goes out, but very little comes in.
Pakistan were unlikely to be amongst the medals in Rio for hockey, but the sad thing is they look like they are heading for their sixth consecutive Olympic Games without a medal, as they are sending the smallest team ever to Rio. Their last Olympic medal was bronze in Barcelona in 1992 for hockey.
All of Pakistan’s seven athletes heading to Rio have been given wildcard entries as no athlete from Pakistan qualified for any event.
Pakistan’s population is just under 200 million, so to many it seems unbelievable that a country of that size cannot produce a handful of athletes of a standard where they can achieve Olympic qualification. Sadly though children in schools rarely play any other sport other than cricket. The country’s top athletes seldom compete against the world’s best, as their federations simply cannot afford to send them abroad.
Cricket is still widely popular in Pakistan, but sadly other sports have slipped a long way behind. Even Squash, a sport in which for so long Pakistan dominated the world.
In years gone by Pakistan’s hockey players were revered. No longer does the Government find the top players jobs within its structures. Former captain and coach Tahir Zaman has been quoted as saying, “top players get $10 per day. Pakistani cricketers, by contrast, are paid $5,000 monthly retainers and make a fortune from sponsorship deals.”
Yet the problem is far deeper than just the payment of the players. Those involved in sport in Pakistan say that nothing has moved on in the past 30 years. There is no infrastructure in place. In some sports not even a league competition.
Not only can the various sporting federations not afford to send their athletes overseas to compete against the best, but they cannot afford to hire top coaches. Coaches who will be up to date with the latest sport science, nutrition, and training techniques. As a result the nation has had to rely on local trainers and coaches with, as has been quoted, “obsolete” methods.
It is interesting to note though, that despite the lack of support financially or in terms of coaching infrastructure the Pakistan Hockey team, for example, is still expected to match it with the world’s best teams. The expectation is the still there from the people. Tahir Zaman has advocated for a long time that Pakistan needs a sports psychologist on board to help the players cope with that expectation and the reaction to their current failure to meet those lofty expectations.
Interestingly, he, along with many others, does not believe that a foreign coach is the answer to Pakistan’s woes when it comes to hockey. There have been three employed in the past. All of them Dutch. First was Hans Jorritsma who led Pakistan to victory in the 1994 World Cup, then came Roelant Oltmans and then Michel Van Den Heuvel. What they believe is crucial to a sporting turnaround in Pakistan is that the various sporting federations employ coaches to train the local coaches.
There is no doubt Pakistan sport finds itself in a very unenviable position. Even if it opted for this course of action, it then has to convince the right candidates to re-locate to Pakistan, a place where few teams will even contemplate visiting at the current time.
It is very sad because sport has the power to uplift the people. It has a role to play in inspiring the next generation of sports stars. The current stars can inspire many to take up the sport and take part in physical exercise, which has a flow on effect in society.
Hopefully for a country with such a large population base, foundations will be laid in 2016 that mean that come 2020, and the Olympics in Japan, not only are Pakistan’s hockey team back up to a level where they have qualified for the Games, but also other athletes in other Olympic sports.