Pakistan has seen a serious slump in performances from its athletes with the country’s main hopes at the Commonwealth Games pinned on field hockey and tennis star Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi.
They will compete in seven disciplines in New Delhi — boxing, field hockey, shooting, squash, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling — but the Pakistan Olympic Association chief admits medal chances are slim.
“We have a fair chance to win medals in tennis, weightlifting and hockey and I count Qureshi as a medal prospect,” said POA president Arif Hasan.
Qureshi became an instant star in Pakistan after he finished runner-up in the men’s doubles and mixed doubles at the US Open earlier this month, becoming the first Pakistani ever to reach a Grand Slam final.
But unlike at the US Open, where he teamed up with India’s Rohan Bopanna, Qureshi will have to rely on the lesser talent of Aqeel Khan in Delhi.
“The assignment I have been given is to prepare a strong team capable of winning the 2012 London Olympics, but my own assessment is that we need to target winning the other events as well,” van den Heuvel said.
Hockey Captain Zeeshan Ashraf is hopeful Pakistan can do well in India.
“Our first target will be to reach the semis, and if we are able to do that I am sure we can upset the best of teams in the race for the title,” said Ashraf, who came out of retirement after the World Cup failure.
Pakistan’s lone gold medal at the last Games was won in weightlifting through Malik Shujauddin in the 85kg category.
Pakistan also won three silvers through hockey, boxer Meharullah Lassi in middleweight and shooter Irshad Ali. Their sole bronze medal was won by weightlifter Mohammad Irfan.
Shujauddin, now 38, finds himself short on international exposure.
“The competition is getting tougher and tougher and we don’t get much international exposure, but I am still confident that I will repeat my golden performance,” he said.
“Competing in India and doing well there is itself a big motivation.”
Pakistan won eight gold medals in athletics in the 1962 Games but a lack of facilities, exposure and talent have left them lagging far behind at the international level.
Naseem Hameed, who became South Asia’s fastest runner when she won the 100-metres at the South Asian Federation Games in Bangladesh earlier this year, has shied away from India for fear of failure, citing fitness problems.