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Another medal missed – Arshad Nadeem’s loss makes Pakistanis demand better sports facilities

Pakistanis want their atheltes to win both medals and hearts. But they also know why Tokyo Olympics couldn't end the country's dry run since Barcelona 1992.

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New Delhi: As Pakistanis praised javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem for his performance at Tokyo Olympics, his loss has only added to the chorus to build better sports facilities in the country. Pakistan hasn’t won an Olympic medal since Barcelona 1992, and with every loss in Tokyo – from badminton player Mahoor Shahzad to weightlifter Talha Talib to shooter Gulfam Joseph – the wait got longer by another four years.

As journalist Muhammad Adil Abbasi put it, Arshad Nadeem “won” because his “fight generated a genuine debate”.

Nadeem came fifth in the men’s javelin throw, the event where India’s Neeraj Chopra won the gold. The Indian thrower said it’d have been “good to have Nadeem on the podium too. Asia ka naam ho jata,” CNN-News18 reported. But Nadeem is still no less of a hero for the people of his country.

His performance at the Olympics, in the words of Punjab chief minister Usman Buzdar, “will motivate and inspire Millions of Pakistanis,” in the years to come.

Thousands came forward on social media to congratulate Nadeem, saying he had won their hearts over.

Nadeem’s performance is special also because he is the first Pakistani to become a finalist in athletics at the Olympics. Even though his loss meant that Pakistan returned empty-handed from Tokyo, his qualification into the finals is a small step forward for a nation trying to improve its shambolic Olympic record.

Also read: Talha Talib had a near-miss at Tokyo. But Pakistanis’ worry is small Olympics contingent

Pakistan at the Olympics

Pakistan’s golden age at the Olympics was between 1956 and 1976, with hockey being its claim to fame. Pakistan has won a total of 10 Olympic medals, eight of them in field hockey.

Pakistan won a silver medal in hockey in Melbourne (1956), before winning gold in Rome (1960) and Mexico City (1968), silver medals in Tokyo (1964) and Munich (1972), and a bronze medal in Montreal (1976). This was, scholars note, before the country’s “relative decline and a somewhat less successful period (at least in terms of Olympic hockey results) in the ensuing decades.”

Its success slowly dwindled with every new season. At Rio 2016, Pakistan sent its smallest contingent to the games, consisting of seven athletes – an indictment of the country’s declining sports culture. The hockey team couldn’t even qualify.

A scathing article in The Express Tribune described it as such: “And it is no surprise that Pakistan’s hockey team — usually the country’s strongest side in Olympics — failed to qualify for the Games for the first time in their history, coinciding with the overall downfall of sports in the nation. The prevalent system fuels the stranglehold of officials instead of promoting and producing athletes.”

Also read: Pakistani shuttler Mahoor Shahzad reached Tokyo Olympics. Now she’s serving apologies

‘Build sports facilities’

Tokyo Olympics has raised the demand for better sports facilities and infrastructure in Pakistan.

Nadeem himself told a news portal that he felt “ashamed” by not bringing home a medal, and that the current sports infrastructure spelled doom for athletes hoping to win medals.

“With the given facilities, we can only win hearts, not medals,” Nadeem told Arab News, adding, “Other sports are not on the priority list of the government. All governments have been obsessed with cricket.” He said Pakistan has “enough talent, but hardly any facilities. It needs to be worked out.”

His fans can’t help but agree.

(Edited by Prashant Dixit)

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