Children of the Soil

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The glorious feats of Pakistani wrestlers and weightlifters that kept the spirit alive and well have long been forgotten. So much so that early this year, Google Doodle’s celebration of the 144th birthday of the fiercest wrestler ever to have stepped into a ring, The Great Gama, took everyone by surprise. Reminding the world of the golden era, Pakistan’s Noor Dastagir Butt bagged the first gold medal at the Commonwealth Games 2022. Alongside, wrestler Inayatullah knocking out his opponent within just three minutes comes as a breath of fresh air. Just as determined to break the monotony of doom and gloom is three-time World Beach Wrestling Champion and the 2019 World Beach Games gold medallist, Muhammad Inam. Having carried the flag at the prestigious meet in Birmingham last month, Inam also aspires to finish the games with the crescent-adorned flag on his shoulders. A marvellous goal, indeed, but something that speaks much more about individualistic talent than the country’s priorities. Mr Butt’s emotional flight to fame after sustaining serious injuries relied on his willpower alone. Despite holding several national records and having been noticed by bodies all over, Pakistan Sports Board, Pakistan Olympic Association and the government did not feel the need to support his comeback; something the disillusioned sportsman has often talked about.
Probably learning from previous mistakes, Pakistan has fared considerably better this time. The contingent, thankfully, includes 68 athletes, being flanked by 36 officials, numbers alone cannot alleviate its dismal rankings. Call it an undeniable repercussion of government neglect or the widespread poverty but a country that won as many as 18 wrestling gold medals in the Commonwealth, five at the Asian and even scored a Bronze Olympics medal has had nothing to add to the medal cabinet in the last four decades. The likes of Talha Talib have rekindled the weightlifting torch by persevering all stumbling blocks and making it to the Olympics but again, such tales of determination have had no backing whatsoever from any national association. Traditional wrestling has dismally lost its appeal and families synonymous with keeping the centuries-old traditions kicking are nowhere to be found. Gone are the days when the sport used to be patronised by the state and popular wrestlers enjoyed a cult-like following. Those still passionate about the majestic sports have to bear the backbreaking costs and tough routine out of their own pockets. In stark contrast, our dear neighbour has a thriving wrestling federation that pursues new talent all year round while promoting the finds with extensive infrastructure, institutional support and government jobs among other glittery perks. Its film industry has actively contributed by putting the struggles and the feats into dramatic form. We, at Daily Times, have repeatedly called on the government to get to grips with these stars and harness their potential as its ambassador. If India can do it, China can do it, even Russia can do it, why can’t we let our homegrown talent catch the world’s eye?