The world of Pakistani sports is a complex one, full of remarkable achievements and also lost opportunities. There’s a strange issue that comes up often: a sense of suspicion, even dislike, towards Pakistani athletes who live and play overseas. Our own athletes receive what can only be called an unfair degree of scrutiny from both the public and sports journalists alike.
Top players like Otis Khan, Easah Suliman, Hassan Bashir, Maria Khan, and Kayla Siddiqi, all of whom have represented the national team on the biggest stage, have been targets of this vile propaganda. It’s like people are asking, “Are they Pakistani enough?”
This phenomenon extends beyond the football realm too. Remember the fuss when Wasim Khan was made Pakistan Cricket Board chief executive? Despite all the criticism, he’s now doing a great job as a general manager at the International Cricket Council.
So, what’s going on? Why is there such an aversion to embracing our overseas-based players? Is it a misguided sense of nationalism, or an outdated idea of what it means to be ‘truly’ Pakistani? Whatever it is, it undeniably serves to diminish the growth of our national teams and football as a sport in the country.
Much of the blame can be laid at the doorstep of our ‘sports journalism’ industry, if one can call it that. The continuous bashing of overseas Pakistani athletes has turned from critique to unwarranted vilification.
Recently, an interview by a renowned ‘sports journalist’ along with Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister, Ehsan ur Rehaman Mazari went viral on social media, where they targeted Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalization Committee (NC) head, Haroon Malik. The video captured the minister threatening to “hang” Haroon Malik, who was accused by a local journalist of not being a true Pakistani due to his dual nationality.
This reflects the understanding of sports journalists and governing bodies regarding sports in the country. It’s time they stop focusing on where players come from, and start talking about how they play and how they can help our teams.
Moreover, there seems to be a lack of understanding of the broader global sports landscape. Countries around the world have turned to their diaspora to strengthen their national teams. They recognize the value of having players who have honed their skills in more competitive environments.
For instance, let’s examine the cases of Morocco and the Philippines. The former stunned the world by reaching the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup 2022, their team a rich tapestry of local and diaspora players.
Meanwhile, the Philippines, whose women’s team comprises almost entirely overseas-based players, has just secured a spectacular victory over New Zealand in the ongoing Women’s FIFA World Cup 2023.
What can we learn from this? Simply put, overseas talent can really help. They bring in different styles, techniques, and experiences, which can take a team to greater heights.
A persistent and pointless culture of shaming such players is nothing short of self-sabotage. It undermines our sports performance on the international stage, and, quite frankly, it tarnishes our reputation as a nation that is inclusive and supportive of all its children, no matter where they choose to live.
Isn’t it time we stopped worrying about where our players live, and started cheering them on for their skills? Isn’t it time we focused on building a sports culture that welcomes the best, wherever they come from?
Our sports journalists need to remember this. Their job is not to divide, but to bring us together. It’s not to put down our athletes but to lift them up. It’s not to discourage, but to inspire. Let’s celebrate all the talent Pakistan has, both at home and overseas. After all, that’s what sports is really about.