The Pakistan Olympic Movement remained under siege in 2013 as a handful of mischievous sports elements with the help Pakistan Sports Board (PSB), Inter Provincial Coordination Committee (IPC) and some Federal Government officials left no stone unturned to destroy the very fabric of the sports in the country and invite the wrath of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) by openly and shamelessly violating the Olympic Charter. For the first time in the history of Pakistan sports, the intense and dirty power struggle spearheaded by these disgruntled elements resulted in not only formation of a parallel National Olympic Committee but also Pakistan hockey’s ouster from the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
The sports scenario of Pakistan remained murky and polluted throughout the year due to a rift between the Pakistan Olympic Committee (POA) and the PSB – the national body that governs the country’s various sports organisations. The PSB, backed by the Federal Government, tried its best to implement the National Sports Policy under which no national sports federation head can have more than two tenures, and expected the POA to follow suit. But POA chief Lt Gen (r) Syed Arif Hasan, who won a third term in 2012, refused to follow the PSB directives, saying the POA was an autonomous body that would only follow IOC Charter and Rules. It is no secret that the IOC does not tolerate any Government interference in working of its member country as is evident from the attempts by the Indian Government to dictate terms to the IOC which resulted in India’s suspension.
The PSB, with some present and some former sports officials, never accepted Syed Arif’s third term elections held in the presence of the IOC and Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) representatives on February 4, 2012. It was interesting that these very personnel fully participated in the POA elections in 2012, but after losing started their ‘hectic efforts’ to dislodge the POA chief by hook or crook, using the infamous and unpractical National Sports Policy and above all filing frivolous petitions in different courts of law. Despite getting many stern IOC warnings including that of suspension of the country, these elements, the PSB and the IPC continued with their circus unabated and with impunity.
The unprecedented ugly incident in the history of Pakistan Olympic Movement occurred first in February when the rival group of Syed Arif formed a seven-member Olympic Interim Committee, assigning it the task to constitute the new National Olympic Committee. This Olympic Interim Committee also decided to hold 32nd National Games again in Islamabad despite the fact that the said Games were held in December 2012 in Lahore under the umbrella of the Punjab Olympic Association. However, when this so-called Olympic Interim Committee, with the help of the PSB’s staggering funds of Rs.80 million, launched the Games, they were barred by the Lahore High Court (LHC) from using name of ‘32nd National Games’ for the event. The court passed the order on a petition moved by gold medallist athletes. The petitioners said the Olympic Interim Committee was conducting the Games in the name of the 32nd National Games from June 28 in Islamabad in violation of law of the IOC. They argued that under the law the National Games could not be held before the lapse of two years. They pointed out the National Games were held last year (2012) and they had won gold medals in the National Games and now the Olympic Interim Committee was holding of National Games in 2013 which was a sheer violation of the law.
The unlawful and unconstitutional activities of these rouge elements caused another embarrassment to Pakistan in the last week of June when the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) suspended the membership of the Pakistan Basketball Federation (PBF), intimating it under a detailed three-page letter why it was constrained to take this serious action. “The PBF was suspended as a consequence of his questionable activities that in the FIBA’s considered opinion were in defiance of the Olympic Charter and hurt the Olympic Movement in Pakistan. The FIBA took a strong exception to the PBF misleading it with regards to the Lahore High Court verdict and also the PBF President’s consorting with the PSB and unlawfully and unconstitutionally creating and heading the Interim Committee of the POA in direct contravention of the IOC’s explicit instructions.”
Formation of parallel National Olympic Committee: In July, Major General (r) Mohammad Akram Sahi, who is also President of the Athletics Federation (AFP), along with former official of the Pakistan Gymnastics Federation (PGF) Khawaja Farooq Saeed, formed a parallel National Olympic Committee of Pakistan in total disregard of the IOC Charter and sports ethics. The sports circles and critics were taken aback and serious objections were raised against these unlawful elections at all forums in the country and abroad. This unlawful and unconstitutional body started its efforts to get legitimacy from the IOC and the OCA but was duly snubbed. The IOC said: “The situation of the Olympic Movement in Pakistan has deteriorated due to the creation of a parallel body to the NOC by a group of federations supported by Government authorities, in particular the PSB. The IOC has reiterated on several occasions that it will not accept such a body, which stands in clear contrast to the basic principles of the Olympic Charter, and will recognise only the POA, currently headed by Syed Arif, as the sole entity entitled to act as the NOC of Pakistan.”
Forcible occupation of Olympic House: In first week of September, a goon squad of nearly two dozen people, some of them carrying firearms, led by deposed PCO Judge of the High Court Khawaja Farooq, and serving Additional Inspector General of Police Zafar Abbas Lak (an official of the Pakistan Volleyball Federation) stormed on the POA’s headquarters in Lahore and stiff-armed its way into the offices and harassed the handful of POA personnel in the premises. With the marauding gangsters gaining in numbers quickly, the POA officials were herded into an enclosed space while the illegal occupation of the POA record and offices were carried out. The illegal and forceful possession by dozens of people caused panic in the POA as well in the surrounding areas. The Pakistan Government pressure was visible as the police station concerned refused to register a criminal case against culprits besides another drastic step against the legitimate POA in the shape of freezing its bank accounts.
The IOC reacted strongly against the forcible occupation of the Olympic House by Akram Sahi and his cronies. In its strict letter written and addressed to POA chief Syed Arif, the IOC conveyed its warning, which had the approval of the IOC Executive Board. “The IOC will now examine all the facts which led to this situation. If it is confirmed that the POA currently headed by you (Syed Arif) is no longer in a position to exercise its activities freely and safely, due to the intervention by force of the Government and/or any other external body, and if no action is taken to rectify the situation immediately, the IOC Executive Board confirmed on September 4, 2013 that all the necessary measures, including the suspension of the NOC Pakistan, will be taken to protect the NOC and the Olympic Movement in your country in accordance with Rule 27.9 of the Olympic Charter,” the IOC letter stated. Moreover, the letter also stated: “The relevant Government authorities as well as the group of individuals who are constantly acting in violation of the Olympic Charter and ignoring the numerous IOC’s warnings will then have to be held responsible, before the Olympic Movement, the athletes and the public opinion in your country for this extremely unfortunate situation”.
OCA bans sports officials: Following the unparalleled and illegal occupation, the OCA Executive Board banned Pakistan’s illegitimate Olympic pretenders Akram Sahi, Zaffar Abbas, Khawaja Farooq, Major (r) Muhammad Afzal and Senator Ghulam Ali from taking part in any activity under the ambit of the supreme continental sporting body – meaning thereby that Pakistan under them shall not be able to participate in any Asian event in any sporting discipline. Further, Khawaja Farooq and Afzal’s prestigious membership of the OCA committees – Rules and Finance – too were suspended. The indictment itself sounds like a damning verdict: “Harming the Olympic Movement, formation of an illegal parallel body, which is an unprecedented act, total disregard for the IOC and the OCA instructions and finally storming the office of the legitimate and international recognised National Olympic Committee.” No doubt, the PSB, led by director general Amir Hamza Gillani, and Akram Sahi and his cronies put Pakistan to shame. For the first time in the history of Pakistan sports, five officials of the national sports federations were banned by the OCA for their unconstitutional and unlawful activities.
Pakistan hockey out of Glasgow Commonwealth Games: In the middle of September, these internal disputes resulted in Pakistan men’s hockey team out of the Commonwealth Games 2014 to be held in Glasgow. The Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) ignored the IOC-backed faction of the POA as it relied on the state-run PSB. As a result, it showed no interest in sending a team to the Glasgow Games. The PHF was granted extension twice by the Commonwealth Games Organisers on the request of the POA headed by Syed Arif. Unfortunately, common sense did not prevail. The POA did everything they could to get the PHF to work with them but it simply did not happen. The decision was a huge blow for the national sport of the country, though Pakistan would be sending athletes to Glasgow to compete in other sports. Pakistan won four hockey world titles and three Olympic golds, but the men’s team failed to progress from the group stages at the London Olympics 2012 and they failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Pakistan finished sixth in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in India. Their best finish was a silver medal in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
Lausanne meeting to resolve issue: In October, the IOC together with the OCA held a meeting in Lausanne involving IOC Member in Pakistan Syed Shahid Ali; Faridullah Khan, Federal Secretary to the Ministry of Inter Provincial Coordination representing the Government of Pakistan, and a delegation of the IOC-recognised POA headed by Syed Arif. The main agenda behind the meeting was to resolve the impasse between the Pakistan Government and the IOC-recognised POA and also to address allegations that parallel bodies had been established to rival officially recognised National Sports Federations. The situation currently faced by the Olympic Movement in Pakistan was reviewed, and it was agreed that the current situation must be resolved as quickly as possible in the interest of sports and athletes in Pakistan. The Government of Pakistan expressed a firm commitment to fully respect and comply with the Olympic Charter, in particular the principle of autonomy of the Olympic Movement in the country. It was, therefore, agreed that the Government of Pakistan would cooperate and refrain from any undue intervention.
IOC asks Government to revise National Sports Policy: At the fag end of the year, the IOC officially endorsed the POA led by Syed Arif after reviewing the status of National Sports Federations in the country and their relationship with their respective international federations. An official email was sent to the IPC Minister Riaz Hussain Pirzada, Federal Secretary to the IPC Faridullah Khan and Syed Arif by the IOC Director General Christopher De Kepper. The IOC asked the Pakistan Government to revise and review the conflictive issues of the National Sports Policy to make it fully compatible with the basic principles and rules that govern the Olympic Movement. The IOC also released a list of National Sports Federations that were recognised by their respective International Federations. The IOC made it clear to the Pakistan Government that the NOC Pakistan led by Syed Arif was the only legitimate body in the country and must be handed back the bank accounts and the Olympic House, which were forcefully and illegally occupied by a bunch of goons on the behest of some Olympic pretenders.
Time for Government to act before it’s too late: The delusional personalities – Akram Sahi and his cronies – the PSB and the Federal Government – are refusing to comprehend the fact that the POA is the main pillar of the Pakistan sports structure. For the last one year, Syed Arif has been trying his level best to resolve the issue as per the Olympic Charter but in vain. Many athletes have resisted echoing their view in public, simply because these tainted officials can ‘play havoc’ with their careers. Pakistan as a nation has already tarnished its reputation thanks to attack on Sri Lanka cricketers in Lahore a couple of years back. Also we have failed in winning bids for big international sports events because of the trust factor.
The IOC ban on the country would not only be a big jolt to our reputation one more time but it would also take Pakistan several years back in rebuilding its image. No country has been banned from the Olympics since the South Africa was expelled between 1968-1988 during the apartheid era. The POA has clearly stated that it do not want something that may put a question mark on the future of Pakistan sports or have a deeply injurious impact on the image of an already isolated nation. But the disgruntled elements want Pakistan’s suspension so that their nefarious designs could be fulfilled. These Olympic pretenders are not only deceiving everyone by misinterpreting a decision of the Supreme Court regarding the National Sports Policy but are also shamelessly refusing to adhere to the Olympic Charter.
The IOC’s attempt to keep sports at arm’s length from politics is the right decision because, in the IOC parlance, that’s what Government interference amount to. Many Governments around the globe had tried to dictate terms to the IOC in the past but its strict laws had always failed such attempts. It is high time that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should stand up, take notice of the situation and accept his Government’s shortcomings, follies and ignorance towards sports in Pakistan. Otherwise we should get ready watching Pakistan athletes marching at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics 2016 under the IOC flag.