Do we treat Arshad Nadeem fairly?

In Sports
March 28, 2024



KARACHI:

Do Pakistanis lack the basic IQ and common sense when it comes to understanding sports and athletes?

The answer is yes, sadly. For the longest time I have written against sports authorities as one does, I can understand that there is a lack of professionalism from a lack of sports policy at the governmental level to legislation and practice. But since the wee hours of last Sunday, I have felt the immutable disgust and indignation over how the so-called journalists and people have treated Pakistan’s first track and field athlete to make history by qualifying for the Olympics (twice now, since 2019).

The absolute disregard for an athlete’s dignity and humanity has been a prime sport for the better part of the last week if one looks away from cricket for once.

People love Arshad, because he is an incredible role model, but do Pakistanis have no sense of how to properly show it?

The question remains, will Pakistani journalists and fans treat cricketers the same way they have treated Arshad Nadeem the last week?

An E-grade digital sub-editor of a well-known media house took the unethical and completely unwarranted, sinister step of starting a crowdfunding campaign that at first just seemed like him trying to siphon views from original work, here the example was my story on Arshad’s return to training after knee treatment in the UK.

The story was about how despite four years since his Olympic qualification in 2019, the government has failed to provide a well-equipped gym, an all-round track and field ground for not just Arshad but others too.

But the idea of demanding professionalism and proper facilities has been so abstruse for this clout-chasing journalist that they went on to call for a crowdfunding campaign which Arshad would never and has never agreed to or asked for. The said ruckus not only damaged Arshad’s reputation but also put him through the anguish of clarifying himself to people.

Several important points were raised by Arshad in that interview. He wants to compete in at least one Diamond League event, he will likely go to South Africa for training to prepare for the Paris Olympics, he also pointed out how one stadium that he uses gets closed during the Pakistan Super League season and how it is inconvenient for the athlete. He has always been respectful and credited his coaches, he credits Salman Butt for most of his recent success, but he did humbly request access to the international standard of coaching expertise.

All the concerns he raised were pointing out the apathy of the government. A systemic issue that requires systemic rehabilitation quickly.

Crowdfunding one javelin or getting one javelin cannot solve the issues Arshad is facing. Is it too difficult to understand that proper protocol should be given to the requests of an athlete who has brought so much joy to the people and accolades for the country? How are these crowdfunding schemes effective or useful? If anything there is more harm than good as we witnessed last week.

It takes away the attention from actual systemic issues, it leads people to think that people can throw money away at crowdfunding and be done with the problem that would certainly arise again because it was resolved on the short-term. Is the money collected money even going to the said athlete? If we start crowdfunding schemes each time at every problem will it not exhaust people as well, throwing money at problems indiscreetly never solves anything anyway, and why are other more benficial avenues not explored especially when the onus lies on the federation, governement and acquiring expertise of proper sports and athlete management professionals.

Arshad had also told me about how he still has only one international standard javelin, which is also chipping away from the tip. For the last two years, he used Nameth but he would like javelins from Nordic that are used at international competitions. Before these couple of years, he used locally made javelins that were bad for his elbow and left him susceptible to injury.

And he needs a collection of javelins, at least four to six, to be able to train as international javelin throwers do.

He had also requested me to write it in a way that would not get him into any trouble. In my good conscience, I obliged.

The outcome I expected in my optimism was that after this article the government would find a way to get Arshad what he needs. Or corporates may step forward again perhaps as the Athletics Federation of Pakistan chief had resigned and there was a likelihood of new administration that can implement a more athlete-friendly program for Arshad.

But this delusion of getting one javelin through crowdfunding being the solution is, frankly, outrageous. Later after an entire day of people saying all sorts of things, Arshad was forced to say he does not need anything except for well wishes and support to win the Olympic medal come August.

Athletes usually face backlash if they speak their minds and truth because their respective federations and the heads who are usually retired army generals do not like any valid criticism.

Federation chiefs are involved in corrupt practices where they do not let the athletes get sponsors directly and have asked corporate sponsors to sponsor the federations instead of the star athlete. These incidents have been well discussed by people who tried to officially sponsor Arshad.

While I sit and curse the government and lack of athlete management awareness overall, I saw the side of our Pakistani fans who have absolutely no idea how to treat or behave with athletes like Arshad.

Arshad had switched from cricket to pursue javelin throwing and has emerged as an elite level athlete despite being a Pakistani where track and field are not developed or encouraged. Anyone who has witnessed his journey can attest to the efforts he has made and the pain he has endured to put Pakistan on the world map when it comes to athletics.

However, I quickly realised that there is no difference in the attitude of these unscrupulous federation officials and our so-called Pakistani sports fans plus the journalists. The concerned federation is more concerned with using athletes to improve the profile of its officials, whereas the public is condescending at best and apathetic to the achievements of non-cricket athletes at worst. Both sides of the coin are unwilling to truly appreciate and recognise the hardships athletes go through and respect them by doing away with the hurdles. For them, the life-long dedication of these athletes, talented, bright youngsters is nothing but entertainment or just another person to use as a cog in the machine.

What Arshad has done, qualifying directly for the Olympics, breaking the 90m barrier at the Commonwealth Games, grabbing the coveted medal at the World Athletics Championships, a first in all the above, is terra incognita for Pakistanis.

My question is, would Pakistanis treat a top-class cricketer the same way? Would they start crowdfunding without the permission of the athlete at all?  

The amount of arrogance that is needed to take such a step is unfathomable to me, this idea of ‘helping’ a non-cricket athlete. This shameful attitude of calling Arshad a national hero and then just taking away the basic right of choice, of how they would consider the system to be improved for their betterment.

This notion of crowdfunding for one javelin, when Arshad needs a collection of it? This unbelievably narcissistic view that athletes like Arshad would need to be ‘helped’ by these ‘saviours’ forcing themselves when in reality, Arshad is demanding his well-earned right to professionalism, good infrastructure, international standard facilities and coaching, integrity, and respect for himself and other athletes.

He is not asking for ‘help’ but for basic professional facilities, systemic revamp, and support for him.
Other javelin throwers of his calibre and his competition have many facilities and resources at their disposal, and Arshad does not have even a fraction of it.

India’s Neeraj Chopra for instance was training in South Africa sometime ago, earlier there were reports of his pla to train in Turkey during March.

Arshad’s friend from across the border has numerous multinationals sponsoring him including Visa, Samsung, and P& G to name a few.

World number three Julian Weber too was going through a training camp as early as December last year, he has a Nike sponsorship for example.

These are not comparisons with Arshad by any means but just to put things into perspective. These athletes are representing the systems they are coming from as well. But Arshad is not, he is in this context a unicorn. He has so far succeeded in a faulty sports system/culture that hinders his progress.

The 27-year-old in Lahore is returning, trying to get back to his feet after major knee treatment that forced him out of the Asian Games, which kept him away from the Asian Championship last year too.

He is already fighting against enough odds, must these journalists, and people who are quick to jump on any and every opportunity to insert themselves for a few more social media impressions, to sell their snake oil in the garb of covering sports for the betterment of athletes?

What people never considered in this ruckus was how Arshad would have wanted the facilities to work for him, would a self-made man like him like to be misrepresented as needy?

The comments under the post of the said preposterous crowdfunding scheme (scam, as Arshad addressed it) were even more egregious, with people asking why Arshad could not buy a javelin for himself from the money he received as a reward. Would these people tell a cricketer to get his kit and equipment on his own must he represent the country internationally?

The absolute depravity of this mindset is a factor in why our athletes suffer.

The people, even if their intentions are good, must realise how to have basic respect for athletes. The road to hell is often paved with good intentions.

Arshad has achieved more single-handedly than the entire cricket team would in history. He is looking to break the 32-year-old Olympic medal drought for Pakistan.

He is a young father of two children, and he sacrifices all that time that he could have been spending with them for this country, but what is this country and its people doing for him?

Coming up with crowdfunding schemes is an insult when an athlete is asking for a professional set-up. Leeching off their circumstance and making it a story about their misery instead of their resilience is an insult. Not questioning the government and demanding the facilities and infrastructure from them is treacherous.

Portraying stars like Arshad, who have paved the path in an extremely competitive professional sport at the world level, as helpless is unjust. But somehow, Pakistanis believe they can carry these attitudes towards athletes as normal behavior.

In all fairness, I believe that we do not deserve brilliant youngsters like Arshad Nadeem and other amazing non-cricket athletes.

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