Pakistan sport hits low point with qualifying debacle

Thu Jul 14, 2016 11:01pm EDT
 
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By Drazen Jorgic

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan's sporting decline has left the vast South Asian nation that once prided itself on producing the world's best hockey and squash players facing up to an Olympics for which none of its athletes have qualified.

While cricket remains a wildly popular game in Pakistan, a nation of almost 200 million people, most other sports have shrunk in popularity as the successes of the 1980s and early 1990s have become a distant memory.

In dilapidated gyms and crumbling sports fields Pakistani athletes lament the dated equipment and obsolete training methods which leave them struggling against foreign foes who adhere to the latest science-based techniques.

Female athletes have an even bigger mountain to climb: most young girls in the deeply conservative Muslim nation are pressured by their families to stop exercising in public, while those with family backing face the wrath of their communities.

"We are behind the rest of the world," said Inam Butt, a Pakistani wrestling champion who won gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. "Our budget, training and facilities are just nothing. How can we compete?"

Butt, like other athletes, says the future will remain bleak until Pakistan's government starts pouring money into sport.

The seven participants due to represent Pakistan at next month's Rio Olympics have all been given wildcard entries and stand "no chance" of winning medals, according to Arif Hasan, the Pakistan Olympic Association president.

"They are more or less going for the participation and gaining the experience. Let's hope next time will be better," he said.   Continued...

 
Weightlifter Neelam Riaz (L) watches as her protege Iqra Chanzaib trains at a sports hall in Lahore, Pakistan July 11, 2016.  REUTERS/Caren Firouz