The Beijing Summer Olympics, the 29th Olympiad Games, scheduled to run from August 8 to August 24 - the opening ceremony of which President Bush plans to attend - is a quadrennial reminder of sports taking a centre stage in the world arena. That China was willing to risk unwanted scrutiny over Tibet is evidence enough of how the compulsions of national imagery can outweigh issues of political controversy. The Beijing Olympics are intended to showcase and represent China's athletic prowess, its administrative abilities, the efficacy of its system, and its international stature. India is also set to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. In Pakistan, sports have played a large part in shaping identity and have had an impact on national self-confidence. According to biographer Hector Bolitho, when the Quaid returned from England upon completing his legal studies, he came with a bat and ball, and urged people living in his locality that, instead of squatting down and playing marbles in the dust, to stand up and play cricket. Pakistan's cricket victory over England at the Oval in 1954 was hailed as its arrival on the world sporting stage and seen as a coming of age for the infant nation. It took India seven visits to accomplish in 1971 what Pakistan did in its first visit to England in 1954. This sense of national confidence was further reaffirmed when Pakistan bagged the hockey gold by overcoming India at the Rome Summer Olympics in 1960. It brought unprecedented joy to the nation and reinforced the message that the nation could be competitive on the world stage. The late President Zia instinctively understood the linkage between sporting achievement and a positive national mood, when he pressured and prevailed on Imran Khan to rescind his retirement decision in 1988. Imran went on to lead Pakistan during a pulsating series in the Caribbean, setting the stage for the World Cup triumph of 1992 at Melbourne, which electrified the nation. Indians still talk in awe of the 1982 champion Pakistan hockey side which, led by Akhtar Rasool, won the World Cup at Bombay in 1982. The side went on later during the same year to trounce India 7-1 in the Asian Games final in New Delhi. Then there are other sterling examples. In the world of squash, Jehangir Khan and Jansher Khan stood out like Titans. The former Chief Minister of Indian Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, told me of how he learned from his forefathers at Patiala the way the Great Gama, Ghulam Muhammad, floored Polish-American Stanislaus Zbyszko in 1928 within 42 seconds, to win the World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship. He also told me that the only snapshot of that historic bout remains a cherished family possession of the Maharaja of Patiala household. In Pakistan, sports have had the salutary effect of transcending race and region. If politics has been a divider, sports have been a national unifier. The symbolism of sports often makes people forget their ethnic, sectarian, and parochial divisions. They impart a sense of national coherence and identity. Sporting feats help the public hold fast to the rope of hope, and further help them shake off the false sense of permanent despair. Sporting triumphs reinforce the core idea of keeping faith with the nation, just like the triumph of Zidane in the 1998 Soccer World Cup at Paris infused a sense of lan in the beleaguered French Muslim community, especially when his image was transposed on the Arc de Triomphe amid cries of "Zidane for President." But that was then, and this is now. Now, there seems to be an addiction to defeat and an allergy to success. Sporting bodies seem comfortable in their mediocrity, as Pakistan's Olympic contingent is preparing to go to Beijing with little danger of its threatening the medals tally. For years, the scores have been zero plus zero plus zero, without arousing any shame. Sports badly need to be rescued from charlatans, cronies, and carpetbaggers, who are treating it as lucrative pension jobs. Sports are meant to instil the values of never giving up. Instead, it is contributing to an overall defeatist mindset, eroding national self-belief. Sports are supposed to teach one of the larger lessons of life, of "dealing" with and overcoming failure and disappointment. Instead, it is now sending a message of being "defeated" by failure and disappointment. The public invests so much energy and emotion in sporting contests involving Pakistan. They deserve better. When Pakistan had very little resources, its output was phenomenal, because of its fighting spirit. Now there is wealth but little will to win. As in politics, sports have suffered from inept and venal leadership. There is also the tendency to change the subject and to shift responsibility by pointing the finger of blame at foreign trainers. Those who come from overseas to commit themselves to improve Pakistani sports deserve respect. If the value of learning is to be honoured, then those who teach have to be honoured. This is consistent with core Islamic values. The decline in sports is not an act of God. It is purely man-made. Therefore, there is a man-made solution to revive the mighty legacy of Pakistan's sports. Now is the time to re-commit to refresh the zeal to compete and raise the morale of the nation. But, first, let's get rid of the blood-suckers. The writer is barrister-at-law, author and political analyst