PAKISTAN’S PERFORMANCE IN
TOKYO 2020 OLYMPICS
After the division of British India in 1947, Pakistan first participated in the 1948 Olympic Games that were held in London, and has, since then, sent athletes to compete in every Summer Olympics, except when they participated in the American-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in the Soviet Union. Pakistani athletes have won a total of ten medals, all at the Summer Olympics with eight of those in men’s field hockey. In the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, Pakistan’s Syed Hadi Haider Naqvi did pick up a bronze medal in taekwondo, but as the sport was not given full status then, the medal was not recognized in the official tally. To date, Pakistan has won two individual medals at the Olympics, both bronze: one in wrestling in Rome in 1960 and the other in boxing in Seoul in 1988. Rome 1960 has been the most successful Olympics for Pakistan so far, with the country’s athletes winning two medals: a gold in field hockey and a bronze in wrestling. Pakistan’s first-ever participation in the Winter Olympic Games was at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics when Mohammad Abbas became Pakistan’s first athlete to qualify in the Alpine Skiing (Giant Slalom) category. Pakistan also participated in the 2014 Sochi and 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics but was not able to win any medal. Pakistan has not won a single medal at the Olympic Games since 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
The latest Olympic Games commenced in Tokyo on July 23 at the National Stadium of Japan. This was the 32nd edition of the mega multi-sports event and the second time that Japan held the Olympics after the 1964 Olympics, making it the first city in Asia to hold Summer Olympics twice. More than eleven thousand athletes participated in the 339 events featuring 33 sports in 50 disciplines including the newly-added sports. In the last Rio Olympics 2016, Pakistan had sent a 24-member contingent in which there were only seven athletes while there were 17 officials. However, this time, Pakistan Olympic Association sent a 22-member squad including 10 athletes and 12 officials. Pakistan hockey team, which used to be a major medal hope in the Olympic Games until the early 1990s – they last won the bronze medal at 1992 in Barcelona Games – failed to qualify for the mega event for the second consecutive time due to their poor show and low ranking. The national hockey team last participated in the 2012 Olympics in London where they had finished 7th.
Arshad Nadeem represented Pakistan in the javelin throw event at the Tokyo Games. In December 2019, Arshad became first Pakistan’s track and field athlete to directly qualify for the Olympics by meeting the entry criteria for the Olympics, which was 85m. His throw was 86.29m which was not only his personal best but also a record at the South Asian Games for the best throw. From that moment in Nepal, Arshad, a young father of two, had been looking for the best training and the best way to make sure he stands a chance to win a medal at the Olympics. Arshad won a gold medal at the 2019 South Asian Games and later bagged bronze medals at the 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games and Asian Games 2018, respectively. He also represented Pakistan at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia and he is the only Pakistani athlete to compete at the World Athletics Championship 2019. Arshad Nadeem was born in Mian Channu, a beautiful small city in district Khanewal of Punjab province.
Nadeem threw for 82.91m on his opening attempt of the final round and 81.98m on the second. His final attempt of the round and competition was a foul as he finished fifth – just two shy of a podium finish that would have netted him a rare medal. His main rival, India’s Neeraj Chopra, saw both his attempts of the final round adjudged as fouls but his 87.58m throw in the opening round was good enough to get him the coveted gold medal. Meanwhile, world number one Johannes Vetter of Germany failed to make it out of the opening round with a disappointing 82.52m in the first attempt followed by two foul throws. Nadeem finished fourth in the opening round with a throw of 84.62 m on his third attempt. India’s Neeraj Chopra topped the opening round with a throw of 87.58m. Nadeem’s first throw landed at a distance of 82.40 – well below his personal best of 86.38m. His second attempt was deemed a foul. However, it is common for throwers to take time getting warmed up and work their way up to bigger distances. That is precisely what happened with Nadeem, who threw for 84.62m on his third attempt. Chopra was the only thrower to clear the 87m mark in the opening round. He did so on each of his first two attempts before throwing for an underwhelming 76.79m on his third attempt. No one else went past 85.44m. Nadeem was one of 12 throwers who were hoping to capture Olympic gold and perpetual glory for their countries. The man from Mian Channu has a personal and season-best of 86.38 meters and is ranked 23rd in the world.
Talha Talib, a 21-year-old lifter from Gujranwala, making his Olympics debut, took part in the 67kg category and held the gold medal spot until the final round before eventually being bumped down and denied a podium finish. In the end, he finished fifth as China’s Lijun Chen, Colombia’ Luis Javier Mosquera Lozano, and Italy’s Mirko Zani captured gold, silver and bronze, respectively. Talib’s lift of 151kg in the Snatch category was the second-best of the round. He failed in his first Clean & Jerk attempt of 166kg and even though he was successful for the same weight in his next attempt and also cleared 170kg later, his combined total of 320 was surpassed by others, including Zani, who lifted just 2kg more than Talib. For a little while during Clean & Jerk, he was in the lead, giving his growing number of fans back home a glimmer of hope. Nonetheless, despite an obvious lack of resources, Talib’s phenomenal performance turned him into a hero as Twitterati showered him with praises and his name became the top Pakistani trend on the site. As Pakistani fans rejoiced Talib’s feat, who stood fifth in the 67 kg men’s weightlifting contest, many also berated the chronic neglect of sports and the obsession with cricket.
Big or small, countries that participate in the Olympics are required to prepare years before these are announced and demand relentless effort. The complaint that you hear from everyone in Pakistan is about resource and funding difficulties and directionless policies. Media reports have quoted the javelin-thrower Arshad underlining the disorganized way he trained for Tokyo. “I could not train at one place. I have trained at different places. To have ground to train, sometimes I would go to the Punjab Stadium and sometimes to other places. I could not get all the facilities at one place,” he said. The story of Talha is even more instructive. According to reports, Talha, coached by his father, had to seek assistance from Palestine’s coach at the main event, because his coach wasn’t allowed to be with him. He, too, has given several interviews to media in which he mentioned how his training regime wasn’t good enough.
Pakistan has an Olympics Association and a Sports Board. Both these bodies are designed to bring up and polish talent that can put up a good show at the world’s largest sports theatre. They claim that they are doing their best under the given circumstances. And it is not as if there is no attention to the plight of sports in Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose claim to fame is the 1992 Cricket World Cup victory, acknowledged the unsatisfactory state of affairs and stated that since he had a keen interest in sports, he would use his insights and experience to bring the standard up.
If harnessed the right way, Pakistan’s sports potential can shine in hockey, squash, volleyball, soccer, tennis and other games. There is no lack of passion or public interest in sports. Quite the contrary, the country is crazy about sports. But crazy energy and raw talent can’t do big things on their own. They can create freak chances at best or produce momentary joys and thrills but getting listed on the all-important medal table is a different ballgame. Talha and Nadeem, however, have proved that Pakistan can be in serious reckoning in sports if only it could pull up its socks and learn from the disheartening experience of the Tokyo Olympics.
The writer is a PhD scholar (English Literature). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org