As a Pakistani, the Olympics aren’t exactly something you think about. Sure, you hear about it every now and then, but it’s just not something that has the nation’s attention. This, of course, is a bit strange given how important sports (particularly cricket) are considered to be during one’s school years.
I remember too many Sports Days I’d rather wish never happened. As someone on the non-athletic end of the spectrum, I never really did well in sports or physical activities. It didn’t help that I was the fat kid in class growing up, so Sports Day was always a nightmare for me. I was “too tall” and “too fat” to be a cheerleader.
I was always made to stand at the very back of marches or “P.E Displays”- which were essentially just the entire school performing a dance routine for no reason- and I was never good enough to qualify for any games.
Which I was completely fine with, but one of the reasons why I was bullied in preschool was because I was horrible at sports. In fact, it wasn’t until high school when I realized that people are allowed to be non athletic.
Sports culture, in my experience, was way too competitive and way too harsh. I honestly couldn’t understand why people were so obsessed with it. And considering how I’ve been in three different schools, I think I can say that I’m onto something.
It was just limited to the schools I’ve attended. I’ve had friends who would play any minutely organized “little leagues” with other schools as well. Our dormant school spirit would substantially raise whenever another school’s team came to play against ours.
There was cricket, football, basketball, badminton, table tennis…the list of teams could go on.
I, of course, did my best to ignore “trials” and all of those things because I wasn’t interested. Still, the point remains: I remember a very competitive sports culture in Karachi, the largest city in the country.
In fact, many people from my country at university have described similar experiences. There have been inter-city tournaments and matches, and people- parents, students, and teachers- invest quite a bit of time at them.
So, how is it that a country with such a competitive sports culture in schools manages to send only ten people to the Tokyo Olympics?
I knew so many people in high school who would boast about being the “fastest swimmer in school” or something along those lines. I’ve heard people from different schools talk about sports as though it was the most important thing in their lives. In fact, one of the reasons I lost touch with a few middle school friends of mine was because they were too busy with sports tournaments and practice to be able to maintain friendships beyond school.
Something doesn’t add up. It truly doesn’t. Sports is one of the reasons why I disliked pre- and middle school. At this point, I’m rooting for Pakistan to have this really competitive national Olympics team or something.
So, why isn’t it there?
To answer this question, I had to talk to athletes I KNEW could’ve qualified for the Olympics. At least, they should’ve considering how good they were in school.
So, after spending countless hours waiting for people to reply to my texts across various social media accounts, I finally managed to get a hold of a few old friends. And that’s how I was able to create a list of reasons why we’re not doing as well at the Olympics.
Why Pakistani Athletes Don’t Pursue A Professional Career?
Lack Of Support
The major issue that most aspiring (and even professional) athletes face is the lack of support from sports organizations. Now, in theory, we’ve got national sports councils- a lot of them. But in practice, there’s hardly anything there. Apart from cricket, football, and some other sports, Pakistan doesn’t have any proper functioning bodies that supervise any other sport performed at the Olympics.
This, in itself, shouldn’t be an issue. Sometimes, you can’t do anything about people not being interested in a particular sport. Nations are always biased towards particular sport, but it’s not that there aren’t enough people interested or athletes.
It’s the fact that there is no support from these “sports associations.” You have to do everything yourself. From importing special equipment for training (which is VERY expensive because we have over 100% import duty tax) to paying for international competitions to filling out paperwork (which officials should do), you’re on your own.
This can be very discouraging. Sure, the associations can say that they won’t pay for equipment or travel expenses because there aren’t enough people for it to make sense. But the overall impression that most athletes get is that no one really cares about your ambitions unless you prove it- and even then, you’re probably not going to get the help you need.
Lack Of Funding
As mentioned earlier, funding is a major issue that is faced by most athletes in Pakistan. Not everyone has the means to pay for international trips or the equipment needed. Since sponsorships are solely reserved for established athletes, it can be very tricky to continue if you don’t have the resources to pay for your passions.
This also leads to a lot of people drifting away from their path altogether. Many aspiring athletes end up becoming trainers or moving away from sports altogether because the cost of following your dreams is just too high. As mentioned, there is little to no moral support for most sports, so you eventually burn out.
I’ll admit that this one wasn’t brought up by most people I spoke to except one. For context, this childhood friend of mine was a really talented swimmer, but she’s from a conservative family. While I’ve never actually felt that her parents are conservative, this is something we always knew about her.
Needless to say, it never really hindered her from doing anything. However, she mentioned that when she wanted to include her swimming background in her college applications to qualify for a sports scholarship, her parents told her not to do so. They weren’t comfortable with the implications of her being a swimmer. It wasn’t about the sport itself. It was just the fact that she would be wearing a swimsuit.
I asked around about this bit. While generally, parents don’t care about the social stigma when their child is performing well in the sport, their hesitance usually comes from the fact that their child is probably wasting their time on something that’s not going to have benefits in the future.
As I’ve mentioned, only a select number of sports are popular in Pakistan. If your child isn’t good at one of those, there are essentially no future prospects.
Apart from that, as it was in my friend’s case, Pakistani parents are very, very particular about their social status as well. In fact, the middle-and upper-middle class can be very, very picky. So, not everyone likes the idea of their child being an athlete when the neighbor or a cousin’s child is becoming a doctor. We’re a competitive society when it comes to careers, and everyone just wants their kids to be at the top of their profession. So, when parents know that there is no future in a particular sport, they will probably discourage their child.
So, there you have it. These three reasons are what’s holding us back from actually performing well at the Olympics. It’s not an excuse, but it did help me understand why we’re not doing as well as we should have.
It’s disappointing, honestly, but it’s the world we live in. There are just too many missed opportunities that have led to this situation. As someone who doesn’t care for sports, it’s still disappointing to know that the reason why we’re performing badly is purely organizational. The government is reportedly taken note of the Pakistani team in Tokyo’s performance, but they did that in the 2012 London Olympics as well as the 2016 Rio Olympics. I doubt things are going to change, and it’s frustrating.