THE 25-year old athlete from the district Khyber has been forced to sell pulao in Jamrud owing to financial troubles. Winning Bronze medals in 100m race and 400m race in South Asian Games in December 2019 and a gold medal in 100m race in National Games the month before was not enough to aid his family. He has won several medals in national and international games in the past. He had won gold medal twice in under-19 categories as well. Pakistan’s fastest man spends most of his time in making and selling pulao due to which he has little time to do training. Samiullah has bigger dreams and wants to wave the country’s flag in bigger international competitions. These dreams can only be realised with the support of the State which is not in sight so far. When Samiullah came back from Nepal after grabbing two medals for Pakistan, nobody from the government or any other responsible organization was there to greet him. If the government turns a blind eye to him now, Samiullah’s story will fade into oblivion like several other sportspersons in the past. Samiullah is not the only athlete struggling with financial constraints. Earning laurels for their country has neither given due recognition nor changed life for the better, as majority of the athletes who have won medals for Pakistan in international events still struggles to find a foothold. Regardless of giving their all to the game and winning international tournaments, these athletes don’t get acknowledged as legends. Owing to financial issues, several talented athletes have given up the dream of performing at higher level.
All athletes are passionate, hardworking and competitive. They go through extensive training, avoid distraction and lead a completely different lifestyle. But in Pakistan, sportsmen are differentiated on the basis of their sport. Athletes opting less popular sports get ignored by government and sporting bodies. Besides cricket, barely any sport is widely celebrated by the nation. It’s unfair how a cricket hero earns millions and lives a prosperous life, while a national level athletics, boxing or cycling champion sells pulao or vegetables to feed their children. Such sportsmen live the life of poverty, misery and bygones, despite winning medals for the country at the international level. No one remembers that in Wrestling, Muhammad Inam won Gold medal in Common wealth Games 2018, or Shaukat Ali who won gold medal in Snooker in Asian Games in 1998 or 1988 Olympic bronze medallist Hussain Shah, but Pakistani cricketers’ performances will be evergreen in memory. It’s a bitter truth that one single game is blotting many other games in Pakistan. Cricket fever has overshadowed all other games including our national sport Hockey. There is no question of any debate that cricket is killing other sports in our country. We eat, live, sleep, talk and walk cricket.
Cricket is being sold like a hot cake and organisers, team owners, broadcasters, advertisers and the players have reaped the benefits. Politicians and celebrities control the game in various forms, while we the public, are paying through our nose to watch cricket tournaments. Media coverage of cricket overall feeds into the atmosphere in which most other sports are neglected. In a way, we, as a nation, are to blame for making cricket what it is today, because we do not raise our voice against what is wrong. There is now talk that the country’s athletes will win some medals in the Tokyo Olympics. That is unlikely to happen if we do not create proper facilities for Olympic sports. Cricket gets undue prominence in the media. The over hype has led to imbalance in focus on sports. This is one reason for the country’s poor performance at the Olympics. Pakistan has won only ten medals in total in Olympics since 1948. Eight of these medals have been won by hockey team and two by athletes. Same is the case with Commonwealth Games and Asian Games where Pakistan often finish among the bottom 10 per cent of the countries. Last month, everybody was talking about the return of Test cricket to Pakistan which was a joyous moment for the nation. The electronic media aired dozens of programs on the same topic. While those tests were being played, Pakistani athletes were participating in South Asian Games, but nobody paid any heed to that.
Although determination of Samiullah and all other athletes have never been deterrent by lack of resources but the lack of support and empathy from government and other sponsorship sources are certainly demoralising. If they can perform so well without any support, just imagine how a little support will boost their performance. The strength of Indian sports lies in athletics, wrestling, kabaddi, badminton, tennis and several other games. Cricket is just another sport, but it grabs the maximum coverage and attention. While sports authorities think twice in paying dues to the athletes, money seems to flow for international cricketers. As we eulogise our cricketers, let’s also make heroes of our medal winners in international events who deserve support from the government and much better coverage by the media.
—The writer is freelance columnist.