For the first time ever, our hockey team hasn’t qualified for the Olympics. Most of us are unmoved by this, because we have grown up in the shadow of cricket and its big-sponsor, billboard and television glamour and have no idea what it was to be the Pakistan whose hockey team won a gold at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The cricket parallel is how we won the World Cup way back when and subsequently haven’t managed to repeat the accomplishment, but we’ve come close and enough people have followed the struggle diligently for us to still care. Poor old hockey has fallen horribly by the wayside, and because as a nation we are easily distracted and have a poor sense of history or legacy, nobody seems to care much about it. Corporate sponsors haven’t been enticed to support hockey, no coaches have been flown in to train the team, no newspapers or magazines profile the players and no sports channel spends any significant time talking about hockey. We don’t play it in our schools, largely because most of them haven’t got any space, and as a sport it didn’t ever lend itself to being played in gullies. So hockey and squash, propelled by greats like Dara and the Khans in the eighties and nineties, have slowly deflated and fallen sadly into their corners like shriveled little balloons at the end of a birthday party.

It’s a pity because we seem to have so many talented sportspeople, but we are unable to offer them the support they need and deserve. Our cricket team has been a consistent disappointment over the years, between accusations of match-fixing, international bans and just rubbish, erratic playing. And yet the government continues to pump money into the game, and sponsors continue to defray team costs, and we still watch and curse. To what end? Supporting a disunited, squabbling, unprofessional team that doesn’t win matches seems a waste of resources when there is a perfectly competent and pretty successful women’s cricket team, for example, that deserves more attention.

Our women’s cricket team brings in the wins the men’s team doesn’t. They seem to have much more grit and determination than their various male counterparts who seem to be spending more time selling shampoo and soft drinks than actually taking the game seriously. And because they are women, they have to work doubly hard to get less than half the recognition the men’s team does, augmented by the constant shadow of sexual harassment that has dogged the women’s team for a while now. So they soldier on, win their games, and nobody puts them on prime time shows, nobody goes with garlands to receive them from the airport and nobody puts them on a billboard. I wonder why.

The same goes for our other sports teams—the ones that have done so brilliantly at the Special Olympics in particular. This year’s Olympics were, in a happy coincidence, in Los Angeles in the United States, and our athletes have swept the board. So far we’ve bagged 31 medals, most recently the cycling gold won by Touseef ul Hassan and the silver won by Saira Ikram for the 100m sprint. It’s enough to make one’s heart soar with pride, both for the courage and talent of these young women and men who have refused to let their disabilities circumscribe their lives and for the fact that that kind of grit is coming from Pakistanis. 31 medals! Our athletes deserve the whole nine yards when they return, a brass band and rose petals and country-wide feteing of their immense accomplishments. If anyone should be on a billboard, it’s them. I’d much rather Saira Ikram be telling my kids to wash their hands with Dettol soap than that too-smooth Shahid Afridi with his dandruff-free hair.

But as usual we spend our time praising and celebrating people who don’t really need it. Dime-a-dozen fashion designers and mediocre sportsmen and socialites are all very well, but it’s a shame to see endless television talk shows and magazine pages dedicated to who wore what and panels of shrieking politicians blathering the same old at each other. What does any of that mean, or matter? It just shows how enormously skewed our priorities are when we are unable to recognize the difference between real accomplishment and good PR. Then we wring our hands and say we haven’t got any role models for our young ones when actually, we’re surrounded by talented, creative and dedicated individuals who are doing amazing things with their lives. They’re just not in Sunday magazines or advertisements, so we don’t know about them, or care to. So kudos to Ali Zafar, who is sponsoring Under-17 squash player Noreena Shams, who was turned down by scores of sponsors before Zafar stepped in, paying her expenses so she can represent Pakistan at an international squash tournament. That’s the spirit sports is supposed to embody: a sense of being part of a team, of working together so everyone wins. That’s something to truly praise.