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Tuesday Jul 14 2020

Winning in the shadows: Perennially neglected athletes speak up against Pakistan's cricket obsession

Various sportspersons have voiced their concerns over a lack of attention given to their respective sports receive due to cricket.  

Despite the national cricket team's history of errant and inconsistent displays, their popularity among local sports fans knows no boundaries. While the cricketers thrive regardless of results, athletes from other sports such as squash, wrestling and snooker continue to play second or even third-fiddle no matter how many contests they win and medals they collect.

It makes one wonder: is the country’s obsession with cricket hurts athletes from other sports? The sports personalities who do not play cricket ... will they ever get the adulation or even attention they think they deserve?

'Cricket achievements matter but ours historic milestones don't?'

When the question was posed to various non-cricketing sports stars, the consensus was that the country's cricket craze keeps them from getting a fair crack of the whip. The grumbling comes with the demand of equal treatment.

"If a cricketer scores a century or gets a hat-trick, people remember it for years. Athletes from other sports achieve historic milestones, yet no one cares. Why do we have these double standards?" questioned karateka Saadi Abbas.

"A cricketer earns in millions and his health is looked after but what do we get? Don’t we play for the same country? We have to pay out of our pockets for everything. This attitude towards other sports needs to change," added Abbas who won a gold medal in last year’s South Asian Games yet few would remember that.

Cricketers only have to play to get attention, we win world titles but nothing: Mohammad Asif

Mohammad Asif, Pakistan’s top cueist, who won two world titles in 2012 and 2019, echoed the same sentiment and stressed over the need of resources to facilitate struggling athletes.

"A cricketer who plays a couple of matches gets more attention than someone who brings world titles to Pakistan. This shouldn’t be the way to treat your athletes," he said.

“We don’t get the facilities cricketers get yet our performances are there for everyone to see. If we get support and facilities, then we’ll do even better."

Cricket is why hockey is where it is: Adnan Zakir

Adnan Zakir, a former member of the national hockey team, believes that the country’s unconditional, unbridled love for cricket is one of the reasons for the country’s fall from grace in hockey - a sport that Pakistan ruled for decades.

"We give all the limelight to cricket and they get all the sponsors. Hockey, despite being the country’s national sport, gets neglected. One reason for the decline in hockey is our obsession with cricket and as a result no one is investing in hockey," he said.

"Hockey is one of the most skill-based sports in the world. You need to dedicate your life to this sport if you want to excel. It is not easy to be a hockey player. If you don’t support hockey players, then it will demoralise them."

Nothing against cricket but equality is need of time: Aisam-ul-Haq

Tennis ace Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, meanwhile, said that while he has nothing against cricket, other sports persons should receive similar treatment.

"Games such as tennis, squash and football aren’t discussed anymore. We need to change this attitude. We need to appreciate athletes from other sports as well. The corporate [world] and the government should think about shifting focus to other sports now," he said.

"Cricket is already earning through various other means. We need to come forward and start supporting athletes from other sport."

Battling for space against cricket doubly difficult for women: Sara Mahboob

Another athlete, Sara Mahboob, rued that her job is even more difficult as she not only has to battle for space in a cricket-dominated ecosystem but also face the tall odds already stacked against her as it's not easy being a female athlete in a country that still hasn't truly opened up to the idea of women in professional sports.

"While we already suffer due to a lack of coverage to smaller sports, zero coverage to female sports adds more insult to the injury. If you show cricket all the time then it is natural that sponsors will tilt towards cricket," she said.

"The government must make sure that any athlete who is doing good for the country is not neglected and is properly looked after."

Situation is heartbreaking, demotivating: Kulsoom Hazara

Kulsoom Hazara, another karate star, backed Sarah’s views and added that the situation was very heartbreaking and demotivating for athletes who represent Pakistan in other sports.

"I want to appeal to all the sponsors and government that they should give us equal treatment. We have won several medals in the past and with continuous support from the corporate sector and government, we can bring more laurels,” Hazara said.

'Sponsors must open up their eyes to new opportunities'

The president of Pakistan Olympic Association, Lt. Gen (Rtd) Arif Hassan, agreed that the country’s obsession with cricket has affected other sports and emphasised on the need to highlight the achievements of others.

"We managed to get some deal for Abbas. It may not be as attractive but something was better than nothing. The corporate [world] must come forward to support every sport," he said.