LAHORE: Pakistan`s sporting decline has left the vast South Asian nation that once prided itself on producing the world`s best hockey players facing up to an Olympics for which they don't even have an athlete representing the country.
While none of the Pakistani athletes managed to book a spot at Rio, India have 118 representatives participating in the quadrennial event. The gap between the two nations at this sporting extravaganza has never been so drastic.
Cricket, which remains a wildly popular game in Pakistan, is probably the reason most other sports have shrunk in popularity as the successes of the 1980s and early 1990s have become a distant memory. India, though, has still managed to produce quality in other sports as well.
In dilapidated gyms and crumbling sports fields Pakistani athletes lament the dated equipment and obsolete training methods which leave them struggling against foreign foes who adhere to the latest science-based techniques.
Female athletes have an even bigger mountain to climb: most young girls in the deeply conservative Muslim nation are pressured by their families to stop exercising in public, while those with family backing face the wrath of their communities. "We are behind the rest of the world," said Inam Butt, a Pakistani wrestling champion who won gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. "Our budget, training and facilities are just nothing. How can we compete?"
Butt, like other athletes, says the future will remain bleak until Pakistan`s government starts pouring money into sport.
The seven participants due to represent Pakistan at next month`s Rio Olympics have all been given wildcard entries and stand "no chance" of winning medals, according to Arif Hasan, the Pakistan Olympic Association president.
"They are more or less going for the participation and gaining the experience. Let`s hope next time will be better," he said.
(With Agency inputs)