On South Asia’s hopes of an Olympic medal

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London has barely got its breath back after the Wimbledon fortnight, when the 2012 Olympics arrive in a city already crowded with tourists. The Olympic stadium, sited in the East End’s under developed area of Stratford, along with the Olympic Village, will do much to uplift the area. At Wimbledon, the movers marched in on Monday, removing everything connected to the recently concluded championships, including souvenirs in shops. Blue Olympic screens have replaced the olive coloured backdrops. It will be interesting to see what the eventual turn out looks like.
Another issue is the preparation of the grass courts, which, around the baselines have been worn completely out. But the grounds men seem to have done their homework. In the past couple of years, they have been conducting tests as to the best way to refresh and renovate the bare patches in the three weeks that they have. They have already been germinating the seeds separately and will probably be planted in the bare patches, thus giving them a few days of a running start. So the indications are that everything will be ship shape for the tennis. There seem to be no issues on any of the other sites, unlike at some other events like the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, where preparations went to the wire and beyond.
The major sports powers will be vying for the lion’s share of the medals, with the USA and China expected to be at the forefront. They will have competition from European powers Russia, host Britain, Germany, Australia, Japan and South Korea. Little Jamaica, led by Usain Bolt and a clutch of other world class athletes, will also figure in the medal standings. It is no surprise that all the major medal contenders are countries that have strong economies that allow large resources to be allocated to the development and furtherance of competitive sport.
Successes at major events like the Olympics are a means of projecting the economic strength and an image of a strong and virile society. In other words, the Olympics are a unique opportunity to embellish the brand of the country.
In South Asia, there is little reason for optimism. In the past, there was always hockey, where Pakistan could be found battling for medal positions with Indians too occasionally harbouring hopes of a medal. But the rest of the world has long since caught on. The synthetic turf encourages power and athleticism to the detriment of stick work and body dodges and the sport has changed beyond recognition from when it used to be played on natural grass. Neither India nor Pakistan is genuine contender for medal positions and it would take a Herculean effort for any of them to get to that stage.
India have some possibilities in rifle and skeet shooting, but Pakistan will be sending it’s athletes simply to show up and to give a large contingent of officials to attend. Certainly, the accompanying contingent, official and clandestine, should vastly outnumber the actual competitors if the past is any indicator.
Sport is one of this planet’s big industries. The revenues from sport and the value of its infrastructure would run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. The Olympics is the blue riband of sport but FIFA is not far behind. It was, therefore, unsettling to read in the paper the other day that the former FIFA President Joao Havelange and his son-in-law Ricardo Teixira had received bribes to the tune of tens of millions of dollars to grant favours to International Sports and Leisure.
What was even more startling was that FIFA had agreed to pay $1.64 million in compensation on the condition that charges against the two be dropped. Whoa, what have we here – bribery upon bribery? Is this the tip of an iceberg that involves all sports in all countries? Is this why sports administrators never want to give up their passion for developing the sport that they are heading, even though the bottom may have fallen out of the sport that they have been in charge of?
In Pakistan, the government and the courts have legitimized a proposal from the Pakistan Sports Board that the sports administrators be allowed to work for two terms of four years each. They could then run for a higher post and so on. So, an administrator could conceivably be involved in the running of a sport for 24 years in three different capacities. That ought to be a long enough time to do a job where they do not get paid and only work in an honorary capacity. But this ruling by the courts has raised a storm of protest and public statements by high officials in the sports arena. They are obviously upset that all the hard work they have put in to bring Pakistan sport to the position that it is now, will go to waste!
One tries hard to hold back tears.
The two term idea cannot be all bad. It will bring in new people with new ideas rather than people trying to hang on at any cost. At the Wimbledon championships last week, one could see some Pakistani administrators who seem to have done so much work for the development of tennis that each of them has the voting power of the entire province of Punjab. They have been in their positions since 1984 when the President PTF of the time, a Colonel appointed by Zia ul Haq, arranged for them to be given these positions. These three hold more than one position in other bodies as well and must have contributed so much to Pakistan tennis that the PTF recommends them to represent it at events like Wimbledon.
Two out of the three are not even tennis players but such is their power, that they can influence PTF elections by voting as a group. The PSB should apply the two term rule immediately, because we do not want to tire these people out from their relentless service to the sport.