The whole world is in the midst of an economic crisis. Nothing seems to be working right for anyone. Unemployment rates are looming high and inflation rates have sky rocketed to record levels in most of the economies. Instances of natural calamities in the shape of tsunamis, earthquakes and floods etcetera have devastated a great deal of regions in recent times, and on top of this, there are manmade disasters in the shape of wars, riots and terrorism. Deteriorating ethical and moral standards are the main social dilemmas blocking the notion of human advancement in real sense. The world of sports is no exception. Every day we read about moral decay of sportsmen and sports officials. Matches are fixed and nothing is simple anymore as it used to be in good old days.
However, in these troubled times there exists a ray of hope for the entire world, and that is the state of pure competition and level of excellence in the game of tennis. Roger Federer, the best player ever to play the game, still adorns the arena. It is poetry in motion when he plays the game. His on the court composure, command, balanced personality and off-the-court participation in philanthropic work makes him even more adorable. The other legendary player Rafael Nadal, who is currently number one, is showing his touch and class in extraordinary manner. His physical strength and fail-free returns make him invincible on the court. The level of excellence of top ten players can arguably be considered better than the top notch players of yester years. Keeping in view purity of the game and dedication of players, organizers and authorities it can be said that we are truly living in the times of ‘tennis’. The game is at its best and depicts beauty when there are so many disappointing things happening around the world.
Due to financial constraints and security threats people in Pakistan are left with only few options to enjoy the beauties of life. TV channels and newspapers are filled with sad news stories which serve no purpose then to demoralize people and portray a negative image of the society. However, recently Pakistan’s international tennis player Aisam-ul-Haq has made his name by reaching final of US Open Tennis grand slam. Another interesting aspect of this feat was that he paired with an Indian player Rohan Bopanna to accomplish it. Aisam is a cool customer and believes that religion or politics should not interfere with sports. Over the past few years, Aisam has truly emerged as an icon of Pakistani youth. The promise he carries and the spirit he inspires is amazing.
Pakistan has a very colorful sports history. After independence, Pakistan’s hockey team was the first to amass glory for the country. Hockey was and still is the national game so naturally there used to be a lot of hockey fans who were passionately involved with the game till late 80s. Hockey was equally popular in urban as well as rural areas. Although there were many games played in rural areas which were not played in urban areas. Some of these games are still played in rural areas today. Pakistan reined the hockey world till it was played on grass. Later when astro turf was introduced it totally changed the complexion of the game. Hockey became fast but still there were so many strict rules that one could easily notice the frequent whistle blowing of referees. Now rules have been relaxed and today’s hockey is considerably smoother in terms of foul play from yesterday. There are many reasons why Pakistan’s hockey could not sustain the change in playing environment and rules. Main reasons were near sightedness, vested interests, lack of fitness of players, nepotism in selection, corruption of hockey officials, inability to incorporate the required changes in playing strategy by team coaches, low team work and spirit, lack of confidence among players, less focus on mental toughness and agility in players etcetera. It seems Gojra (a place in Punjab) which was once an asset base has now become a menace.
Cricket did not become popular sports for quite some time. It was due to massive sponsorship of cigarette brands that cricket occupied the air time on radio and TV. There was more glamour in cricket than in hockey so younger lot naturally defected towards cricket whereas seniors still remained loyal to hockey. When the hockey team started losing its grip on the game and the cricket team reached a couple of break through, it resulted in shift in moods of mature people who were now turning towards cricket. Particularly legendary batsman Javed Miandad’s sixer on the last ball in Sharjah Cup final in 1986 against arch rival India can be considered as the single most significant catalyst event to cause exodus of viewers from hockey to cricket. The craze touched zenith when legendary all-rounder bowler Wasim Akram took two wickets on consecutive balls against England in World Cup final and Pakistan became champion of cricket in 1992.
There are generations of sports legends in hockey and cricket. For instance in hockey Ali Iqtidar Ali Shah Dara, Munir Ahmed Dar, Naseer Bunda, Brig. Atif, Islah-ud-Din, Manzoor Senior, Manzoor Junior, Khawaja Zakauddin, Salahuddin, Abdul Rashid, Akhtar Rasool, Hanif Khan, Samiullah Khan, Kaleemullah Khan, Hassan Sardar, Qasim Zia, Shahid Ali Khan, Saleem Sherwani, Mansoor Ahmand, and Shahbaz Ahmed etc. and in the field of cricket Hafeez Kardar, Hanif Muhammad, Fazal Mahmood, Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younus.
Even though Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan took the game of international squash to new heights but unfortunately the game did not become popular in the country. Hashim Khan, Roshan Khan, and Qamar Zaman were the other legendary players.
Only few people know in Pakistan that Pakistan’s Muhammad Yousaf once became world champion in snooker and Zia Mahmood & Masood Saleem remained big names in the game of bridge for a considerable time. Zia believes that Pakistani bridge players have the promise to excel in the game but without proper infrastructure it would be difficult to harness their talent. Pakistan boxers and athletes have also shown sparks of excellence on occasions but these remained isolated events of success somehow.
Since cricket has emerged as the sole obsession for Pakistanis over the last couple of decades therefore success or failure in this game leaves an impression on national mood for some time. Three top players of Pakistan have recently been banned from cricket on charges of spot fixing. Performance of cricket team has deteriorated to a great deal amid moral turpitude of the players. Pakistani team has always been considered an unpredictable side. Some people generalize it to say that Pakistani cricket team reflects the entire nation’s attitude. We need to really make serious efforts to uplift the state of cricket as a means to boost morale of the youth. Some people believe that certain external elements are using cricket to defame Pakistan. Whatever is the truth; we need to put our house in order. We should also invest in Tennis as Aisam has shown promise and since Sania Mirza is married to a Pakistani cricketer this way we can mitigate the risk of emotional loss through shifting interest towards another avenue. People do not realize that corruption in cricket will only end when they will start detesting the wrong deeds of players and officials. Best way is to boycott cricket for some time and switch over to Tennis. A country’s image cannot be developed with isolated events rather we have to pay attention to small things as life is made up of small things and we are what we repeatedly do, excellence then, is not an act but a way of living.