"It was just apathy. I guess we just could not be asked."
There were very few Pakistan fans supporting Pakistani individual and team athletes at various venues during the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Pakistan fans, especially UK Pakistanis had not turned up in big numbers to support the green and white contingent. This excludes the opening and closing ceremonies, which many British Pakistanis had attended.
As per the 2011 census, there were 144,627 Pakistanis living in Birmingham, accounting for 13.5% of the population in the city.
However, Pakistani supporters had come out essentially for cricket, a former colonial sport, which remains popular amongst the community.
There were also some supporters for a sport lost in the wilderness, yet being the national game for Pakistan. The below-par hockey performances of the Pakistan team will certainly have not helped support matters though.
Although, even for the neutrals, the lack of Pakistan fans present at events where athletes were eyeing realistic medals came as a surprise.
Was this a classic example of Pakistan fans only respecting athletes if they won a gold medal?
We explore why only a few Pakistan fans came out to support the team at venues for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games with exclusive reactions.
Cricket Support and Stumbling Block
Cricket is the biggest sport in Pakistan, with so many British Pakistanis also following it and often attending matches.
A fair percentage of UK-based Pakistani people were in attendance for the high-voltage, India versus Pakistan women’s Commonwealth Games match, especially with it being a Sunday game.
It was refreshing to see a fairly decent amount of Pakistan fans coming out to support the women’s team. However, the Pakistani crowd was still considerably low in comparison to the Indian supporters.
Whilst the Pakistan women’s team is positively developing, they can improve further to match the same success as the men’s side. Hence, this perhaps explains why there was a marginally low turnout.
Anna Habib, a student from Birmingham spoke to us about how a judgemental outlook also had an impact. This was concerning fewer Pakistan fans attending:
“My Pakistani friend did not wish to attend. She felt the team was not good enough, with the players being physically weak.”
Despite the Pakistan women’s team lacking in firepower, they lost primarily due to poor strategy in all departments.
Even though the women’s team can work on their fitness, Pakistani supporters failing to attend in large poses a key question.
Will some Pakistan fans factor in strength and form when determining whether they should attend a match or not?
For fans who also enjoy football, one must take into account that the match did fall on the same day as the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 event.
The final featuring the England Lionesses who had eventually won may have also put some travelling fans off for the cricket.
Secondly from a schedule point of view, the India and Pakistan match was more suitable as a day and night game. That itself will have seen more numbers, with the evening game generating more atmosphere.
Nevertheless, Pakistanis in pockets did come and support the women’s team for their final group game against Australia. This was an encouraging sign, particularly with it being a dead rubber match for Pakistan.
Pakistan was already out of the competition, following the loss to India. There is also an argument that those fans who did turn up may have because of their love for cricket. This became quite evident, compared to other sports.
Waqas Ali, a company director from Nelson believes that many Pakistanis tend not to go beyond cricket, except for the beautiful game.
“Pakistan fans can be oblivious to anything outside of cricket, with the exception of football.”
Though Waqas went on to admit that even he did not come to watch the cricket himself at the Games. According to Waqas, he had no excuse, having played the sport frequently, whilst growing up and still admired it.
Though, he acknowledges like many he was following the men’s game more closely.
Similarly, there were hardly any fans from Pakistan, with no men’s cricket. Normally, travel packages are offered for fans when the Pakistan men’s team are playing in a major global tournament.
Although, this was not really the case for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Faint Show for Wrestling
Leading up to the wrestling events at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, Pakistan had high hopes for medals.
Barring injury, Muhammad Inam Butt was almost a gold certainty in the men’s freestyle 96 kg final bout.
Despite Inam and Anwar Zaman (men’s 125 kg) making the wrestling finals, there were barely any Pakistani supporters inside the Coventry Arena on August 5, 2022.
It is plausible that the early wrestling schedule was not feasible for individuals finishing work from 5 pm onwards. Journey time from Birmingham to Coventry may have also come into the equation.
Some may have even found the transport changes too much of a hassle. Should the wrestling have taken place at the NEC?
There was a train station at Birmingham International, which is adjacent to NEC. Hence, the Solihull venue was perhaps a more attractive proposition.
Having said that, Hussain Butt, a security officer from Birmingham of Pakistani origin concedes that he regrets not making the trip to Coventry:
“I wish I had gone to see the Pakistani wrestlers as I was free but was just too lazy.
“I enjoy wrestling though as my family is from Gujranwala.”
According to the 2011 census, there were 9, 510 Pakistani people residing in Coventry. However, it seems even they did not have a big appetite to witness some exciting grappling.
Day two of the wrestling finals on August 6, 2022, was a little more encouraging from a fan’s perspective. There were slightly a few more Pakistanis attending the evening wrestling session.
Naturally, an injured Imam settling for silver the night before did not help to increase audience momentum at an optimum level.
If there were more final bouts, featuring the men in green, the presence of Pakistan fans would have been greater.
Witnessing the wrestling in the arena was more atmospheric and entertaining, especially with everyone being so close to the action. Pakistan fans who were unable to attend missed out on a very surreal experience.
Sadly the absence of many Pakistan fans overall meant a very soft voice echoing from the spectator seats for the Green Shaheens.
Arshad Nadeem The Lone Gold Field Ranger
Arshad Nadeem went into the javelin throw final with minimal support from Pakistan. He also had virtually no backing from Pakistan fans in the UK at Alexander Stadium, despite the event falling on a Sunday prime time slot.
Despite being a favourite to clinch a medal heading into the games, it was as if he was a mysterious person to many.
Nonetheless, the minute Pakistan fans and other spectators present at the home of UK Athletics saw a heroic Arshad creating history on the blue turf and green area by clinching gold.
His victory came with a 90.18 metres Games Record throw on August 8, 2022.
Many Pakistan fans will no doubt have wished that they were inside the stadium to see such a beautifully historic throw, peaking and dipping perfectly. Even Arshad will not have envisaged the superscript.
Regretting not being inside the stadium to catch sight of an unforgettable moment, Waqas Ali from Nelson said:
“I was looking at the crowd in the stadium when he won gold. He did not only win gold but smashed the record. I was saying constantly to my son we should have gone down to this event.”
Waqas continued further from a legacy point of view and admitted not knowing much about Arshad. He also emphasised how the sport was on a back burner comparatively to the gentleman’s game:
“We should have got involved with the Commonwealth Games because of the history. And we should understand it whether we agree or disagree with it.
“We should have culturally been involved even as spectators. Secondly, our man from Pakistan who truth be told knew very little about. I did not follow javelin.
“I must accept if it was a cricket event, it would have been sold out in terms of Pakistan fans turning up.
“Definitely I really regret not coming down for the Commonwealth Games.”
“We only are two and a half hours away. There was not an issue of time or being busy for us. Birmingham was on our doorstep unlike London being a four-hour trek.
“It was just apathy. I guess we just could not be asked.”
On closing ceremony day, Muhammad Waseem, a Pakistan fan from Perry Barr had a sense of disappointment that he was unable to secure a ticket for August 7, 2022, to see Arshad. Although, he was quick to blame the ticket site:
“The tickets page on the CWG site was simply a disaster. It was showing available tickets. Though, after selection it kept giving an exceed limited message.
“I was upset about missing the final thrilling moments of the javelin and Arshad Nadeem being the gold victor.”
This explains why some Pakistan fans had booked early for the opening-closing ceremonies and any other events they could get tickets to at the last minute.
Many fans had complained to us about non-available tickets for the India and Pakistan match, which was only full at 80% capacity.
It is also unknown if any official representative from the Pakistan Consulate in Birmingham was present when Arshad claimed gold.
Sadia Malik, the widely respected Consul General (CG) who is in charge of affairs in Birmingham was asked the question. She officially said that Sardar Adnan Rashid was the Birmingham CG until August 10, 2o22.
Therefore, she was unsure if Sardar Saab had received an invitation or not. Sardar Saab and his team had earlier welcomed athletes to the Pakistan Consulate, which was a positive step.
However, it seems that did not heavily drive Pakistani people to go and see their medal prospects at the venues.
Trilogy, Navigation, Visibility and Social Media
The poor attendance of Pakistan fans at key events and venues should not come as a complete shock.
Traditionally, this was the case even during the 2002 Manchester (The XVII Commonwealth Games) and the Glasgow 2014 (XX Commonwealth Games).
Birmingham 2022 was nothing more than a hat-trick of this dismal trend. Mohammed Nisar, owner of Oldham Snooker Academy put this no-show-up attitude of Pakistan fans down to the “shocking coverage”.
In other words, coverage did not have a successful conversion formula to urge Pakistan fans to attend the different venues.
One must not forget, that a high proportion of Pakistan fans are not traditionally so friendly to games other than cricket and hockey.
Nisar also has a deeper point to quite a degree, especially with events like wrestling, weightlifting, and hockey, which did not get much coverage on BBC Television and via the red button.
In the case of the javelin, broadcasters had once again gone with the annoying interruption in coverage mode. Despite, the javelin being an exciting field event, it continues to not earn enough respect.
Viewers were able to watch javelin on BBC iPlayer but had to endure the same throw delays, missing the action in real-time.
Some Pakistan fans and others also had to navigate BBC online to find the link to the steaming page for all sports and then identify the particular event stream. This was in relation to sports like wrestling and hockey.
For some, this will have become a hideous and challenging process.
The other issue was that the javelin throw had no pre-final qualifier like the 2022 World Athletics Championships.
This meant Arshad Nadeem was not visible to many before the final. This was vital for those who had no or little knowledge of him and his previous accomplishments.
Another reason for not many Pakistani attendees at the venues was that some fans will have preferred coverage in the comfort of their homes.
Super technology has enabled more angles and zooming in on finer details, which some like better.
There is also the power of social media, with some people having a busy lifestyle. Hence, some prefer to get a glimpse through highlights.
Having said that where is the line drawn? One of the most fascinating aspects of travelling to the venues was the active lifestyle elements, as well as meeting and interacting with people face to face.
Additionally, many of these Pakistan athletes have no support from the government and their respective federations. Hence, they are hungry for more support from Pakistan fans.
Camran Khan, Founder and CEO of Brightlet explains the difference between social media and what is really required:
“When a national hero brings laurels to the country, Pakistan fans will post on social media by acknowledging and congratulating, and then forgetting him.”
“However, proper support is to follow the journey, turn up to support the athlete and other forms of encouragement.”
Irrespective of the stance and opinions of Pakistan fans on why there was less in attendance, they like all national fans are patriotic. Patriotism is key for Pakistan fans of sports, particularly as it unites the community, with everyone rejoicing together.
Exploring this debate will hopefully get people to talk, think and move forward with positivity. At the end of the day, it is each to their own and every individual have their preferences.
It is also important to note that some Pakistani people do not even follow or watch sports as is the case with other passionate followers.
Finally, it is time for the Pakistan government and federations to constantly work on a strategy and vision. This will allow to support and aid athletes of all sports in the future on a long-term basis.