Making history

Editorial Board
Tuesday, Aug 29, 2023

On Sunday night, in front of thousands of spectators in Budapest, Arshad Nadeem fell just 36 centimetres short of becoming the first Pakistani gold medallist at a World Athletics Championship. But he still wrote history by becoming the first Pakistani athlete to win a medal at World Athletics when he snatched a javelin silver with a throw of 87.82m just fractionally short of the one made by his Indian rival Neeraj Chopra, who added the world title to his Tokyo Olympics gold with a throw of 88.17m. Just like in Tokyo where Arshad finished fifth despite a galant display, the 26-year-old from Mian Channu was unable to conquer the well-trained and highly experienced Chopra. But, unlike Tokyo, the margin was slim. It’s the sort of margin which the highly-motivated Arshad can wipe out when the two meet again in the Chinese city of Hangzhou which will be hosting the Asian Games from September 23 to October 8 this year. Or perhaps even more importantly in the 2024 Paris Games where Arshad would be the only Pakistani athlete capable enough to end the country’s long-standing Olympic medals drought.

Arshad, who has won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and Islamic Games in Turkey, has become a national hero and not without reason. Through his exploits in Tokyo, Birmingham, Konya and Budapest he has single handedly helped Pakistan return on the world athletics map. He is the sole reason why Pakistan managed to finish at a joint 27th place in Budapest even ahead of countries like China and Brazil. Germany couldn’t even be there because the country, once hailed as a track and field superpower, did not win a single medal in the Hungarian capital. Arshad’s exploits should be celebrated but more importantly, we should make sure that he gets the right training and exposure ahead of events like the Asiad and the Olympics.

The Indians have invested millions in Chopra and it has paid off. Arshad should get similar treatment here. He has braved adversity and injuries on his way to international laurels – and in most of these he has braved on without much support or fame. What Pakistan sports needs is a comprehensive and long-term development plan which can help our athletes come at par with their international counterparts. Our sports authorities should put aside their petty differences and work towards this greater goal. Over the years, we have hardly seen the state take an interest in Pakistani athletes – until any of the athletes brings home a medal. And a few months later, the athlete and their achievement are all but forgotten. It’s time to change the pattern. Sports heroes like Arshad Nadeem are a rare breed in Pakistan. We need to cherish them.