LAHORE - Pakistan has never truly been anywhere close to being a sporting power nor can we expect to become one in the foreseeable future. This was the message coming loud and clear from the lips of Pakistan sporting supremo, president of the national Olympic association, Lt. Gen. (Retd) Syed Arif Hasan. Speaking to the media after the POA's general council meeting, the Gen. Arif said that given the circumstances, the only progress could be incremental, and that too at the South Asian and at best the continental level. "What is important is that we maintain our push towards progress and that is only possible by focussing on youth and providing it as many opportunities as can be rustled up to contest at the international level. Pursuing this policy for the last one year or so has produced dividends as our athletes have done well in various prestigious multi-nation multi-sport events in 2008 - such as the Youth Commonwealth Games, first Asian Beach Games and many other disciplines such as taekewondo etc. In these Games our wrestlers for the first time in a long time have hit the gold standard and our handball team has also won gold. "So there has been progress, and in our youth we see the promise to deliver much more. That is why despite paucity of resources we have decided to send our athletes to five multi-nation events in 2009. These are the two inaugural events in first Asian Martial Arts Games at Bangkok (April 25 to May 3), Asian Youth Games at Singapore (June 29 to July 7), followed by the second Islamic Solidarity Games in Iran (October 16-30), the 3rd Asian Indoor Games at Hanoi,Vietnam (November 2-12) and the 11th South Asian Games at Dhaka (Nov.-Dec.). "There is consensus of opinion between the POA and the federations that continuous exposure of our youth in five events through the year, culminating in the South Asian Games would help them improve standards and medal yield in the regional showpiece", said Gen. Arif. Answering a question about Pakistan's 'failure' at the Beijing Games, the POA president said, "We never were a truly world class sporting nation, and that is reflected in our winning just two individual bronze in our Olympic history spanning 60 years. "Our real medal hope at the Olympic Games has always been hockey. Sadly, it has been on the downswing for a while and since 1992 we have not hit the podium at the Games. That said, hockey would continue to remain our best bet at the Olympic Games", said he. "We did not need to hold an inquiry into Pakistan not coming close to the victory rostrum, as we know what needs to be done", said he, adding that these included building infrastructure, creating nurseries, embarking on a path of public/private partnership, generating employment opportunities for athletes and incentives for the medal winners. With deep pockets bulging at the seams through corporate support like never before and staunch government backing, the Indian sport meanwhile is transforming itself big time. In this context, Gen. Arif made a special mention of a report by Anwar Khan, Pakistan's chef de mission for the Commonwealth Youth Games at Pune in October 2008, that said that India had spent Indian Rs 2,650 million on infrastructure development in anticipation of the Commonwealth Games proper in 2010 at New Delhi and Indian Rs seven billion have been laid out just for the training and grooming of athletes. What Gen. Arif left unsaid was that it requires that kind of investment quotient if a nation desired to make a quantum leap in continental and global multi-sport events. Another thing that he left unsaid was that Pakistan's sporting fraternity couldn't even dream of such a windfall coming its way. Adding to the dismay is Pakistan Sports Trust's - that has so far contributed over Rs 200 million over the last four years to federations in cash and kind, other than helping them in their marketing efforts while hosting multi-nation events at home - hitting bad times owing to the national and global economic crunch and failure of its Hero Card scheme catching public fancy. But Gen. Arif was quite confident that once the PST is revamped in the next six months, it would be business as usual. Meanwhile, the POA and federations, said Gen. Arif, were aware of the shortfall and were trying to build public/private partnerships by bringing in corporate entities to lend a hand by adopting various sports. "Another approach was to exhort the government to pitch in. In this regard we are about commence negotiations with Pakistan Sports Board to approve a grant of Rs 350 to Rs 400 million over two years to help us train, groom and provide exposure to our athletes up to 2010 when we take part in two big Games - the Asiad and the Commonwealth". There is also focus at the devil from within - the parallelism in sporting associations. "The menace has been routed at the national federation level but at the provincial level it still exists and there are a half a dozen such cases in the Punjab and one in the NWFP. The council has decided to make a commission with a mandate to present a report, with its findings final and binding, within 60 days. So by mid March 2008 we would have a definite word on that", said the retired general. As for the National Games 2009, Gen. Arif said that it would be held as scheduled, between Nov. 16 to 21 at Peshawar. The POA chief also informed that president of the NWFP Olympic Association Syed Aqil Shah had informed the council that since the same group that made a good job of organising the 2008 Inter-Provincial Games at the NWFP's provincial headquarters remains in charge, no glitches were expected. Aqil Shah, incidentally also the provincial minister for sports in the coalition government, brought another good news from Peshawar: a spanking new shooting range is near completion there. Among other regulation issues, such as approving the audited accounts for the previous fiscal and budget for the next, the general council also granted affiliation to Pakistan Rugby Union headed by Fouzi Khawaja.