London Olympics 2012: Why didn’t we smile?

Published: July 31, 2012

Sohail Abbas displays the happiness, excitement and confidence that was so lacking in our team as they walked by, dejectedly waving their flags, at the Olympic parade. PHOTO: REUTERS

A lot of things were inherently unique about the Olympics opening ceremony: the forging of the Olympic rings or the winged cyclists cruising to the sound of Arctic Monkeys. The fact that my friends and I recognised a good chunk of the bands and books mentioned made me wonder how much Britain has influenced us.

But that is not why you stay up till Sehri. At around 4ish my brother yells:

“Quick! Oman is on air!”

I mentally go through the alphabets LMNOP and scream


That is the real reason: to catch a glimpse of Team Green, even for just 10 seconds.

Team Pakistan did indeed march. Forget The Sun visa scandal and that the British High Commissioner thinks nobody forges documents like a Pakistani. Forget that the Olympic team includes only two women, the same as Saudi Arabia – a country which only just accepted the existence of women athletes. Forget that the lacklustre waistcoats make you wonder what the US press is complaining about – at least their team’s preppy outfits looked nice.

Members of the U.S. and the UAE contingent take part in the athletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012.   PHOTO: REUTERS

The real question is why did the Pakistani contingent not smile?

Sohail Abbas looked dead straight ahead like he was going to the gallows instead of representing Pakistan as its flag-bearer. So engrossed was one woman with her dupatta that she refused to look up once. One athlete with greasy shoulder-length hair seemed to give angry little stares at everyone. Only one player gave a little wave. But not one of those athletes cracked a smile! Every other country’s team seemed to be enjoying the spotlight. The American contingent came out pumping their fists chanting USA! USA! China’s own sea of athletes looked cheerful. Jamaican flag-bearer Usain Bolt led his team with a swagger.

For goodness sake, the Greeks came in grinning and waving with their country in economic turmoil that may take Europe with it. Syria is going through a civil war, but their team looked so exceedingly jolly, it was worrying.

So what was our problem? Why didn’t we look cheerful?

It wasn’t just that we didn’t smile – we walked on looking so small, so insignificant. The Olympians of a 180-million strong nation looked bewildered, as if they didn’t have the backing of those 180 million at home.

Pakistan's flag bearer Sohail Abbas holds the national flag as he leads the contingent in the athletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium July 27, 2012. PHOTO: REUTERS

So what if we’ve only won 10 medals in the last 64 years?  I’d never even heard of Saint Kitts and Nevis, but their team walked in like they’ve been winning gold since they came into existence.

Where was our self confidence?

Maybe we take ourselves too seriously or maybe we’ve forgotten how to have fun at a collective level. It was sad, considering the British were cool enough to include Rowan ‘Mr Bean’ Atkinson messing up Chariots of Fire, and to make it appear as if the Queen had jumped out of a helicopter.

Maybe it had something to do with our chef de mission Aqil Shah who told all athletes to maintain discipline at the opening ceremony, as

“He did not want any mishap leading to embarrassment”.

Really Mr Shah? Was smiling also included in that memo?

The worst part was that it was not reflective of our team. On PTV Sports a two-minute clip “Raising an Olympian” is being aired, in which Sohail Abbas’ mother talks about her son. The hockey player goes on to give his mother a hug and smiles at the camera. It is this heartening clip about a Pakistani athlete that makes you root for our team just that bit more.

Sohail Abbas displays the happiness, excitement and confidence that was so lacking in our team as they walked by, dejectedly waving their flags, at the Olympic parade.

Sometimes all it takes is a smile.

Read more by Meiryum here.

Meiryum Ali

Meiryum Ali

A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Robin

    Beautiful expressions living in a country on the road to civil war…but ppl will remain the same everywhere..its the politics which kills the best in us…Recommend

  • Acorn Guts

    They didn’t smile. If they had; you’d be complaining their waistcoats were bland. Had they worn something more robust you’d be complaining they didn’t march in step. People like you have a knack for pointing out tiny little irrelevant details to cover up all the hard work these athletes have put into to get there.

    Never been a fan if your penRecommend

  • shabeeb ghosh

    keep it Pakistan. very nice boy. you are one man of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Acorn Guts

    BTW remove the second photo of the female member of Pakistani squad, smiling and waving the wave so jubilantly. Kind of undermines the entire pretence of your blog post doesn’t it?Recommend

  • parveen

    So what if they didn’t smile? What’s the big deal? Are you cribbing just for the sake of cribbing? Recommend

  • Shahid Ashraf

    You’ve raised a valid point Meiryam and I agree with you that somehow as a nation, we have forgot to have fun and enjoy particularly collectively. We’ve been living in a constant fear of uncertainty of God knows what! I think the reason why our athletes look so dull was the feeling of no support at home ??? :(

    It’s so sad! But anyway, let’s hope they perform well in the Olympics!Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    Really well written, and good point. I’ll tell you why we weren’t looking like we were enjoying ourselves. Because we as a nation, have become khuar.

    We are seriously uptight about everything.

    Go from trolls on the internet, to shopkeeps, to athletes, to the audience at a concert. People aren’t enjoying themselves.


  • Yasir

    A beautiful write up.. I agree with your concern. There really is sort of a feeling of uncertainty or for pessimists; impending doom, in our atmosphere.

    P.S. I always love your articles. Conversational and full of emotions. I hate it when all the ‘intellectual’ types are using heavy vocab and deep philosophical pieces. waste of space reallyRecommend

  • Ali

    At leaat one girl smiledand therr were three girls in the march past. Not as much as other countries but we did smile. Recommend

  • Parvez

    You made a thought provoking point. Very nicely written.Recommend

  • Namwar Rahman

    ‘One athlete with greasy shoulder-length hair’? Do you even know who he is before you are trying to share your expert opinion with the world? Do you know how long he has represented YOUR country? If you knew half as much as you’re trying to project, you would know how vital a part he is of your hockey team, and the ‘athlete with greasy shoulder-length hair’ will have a name. Just so you know, this was not the only time he gave such looks, in all the years I have seen him, he always wears that expression. Not only on tv, but also in real life. So do not try to classify this expression as a disinterest in the Olympics on his behalf. Only they can know the pride they fell in being there. Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    @Namwar Rahman:

    See what I mean. Just look at this person’s comments. Completely Khuar. Recommend

  • Umer

    You are right. Also Pakistani squad was perhaps the most shabbily dressed too. They should have acquired services of a professional designer for the occasion rather than wear the same bland stuff they wear year after year.Recommend

  • Kanwal

    I agree that they should ve smiled. I also have seen abroad that in general as a nation we dont throw smiles even for the sake of general politeness. Just imagine a hockey legend like Sohail Abbas going to Olympics grounds with his flag in his hands and not smiling even once…BBC’s commentators propagated a negative enough image of pakistan while commenting on the team itself. So at least the players could show they are nice folks with a light heart and sportsman spirit when they come into a ground. And legends like Sohail Abbas should look the part too. Recommend

  • Abdullah Nizamani

    Can we please come out of this??? People talk about overall setup of ceremony, the mishaps in ceremony and the appearance of James Bond but we are after our team that why they, we ask why, did not smile? It must be noted that at the time our contingent was passing, the Maghrib azan was not called in London. So they might have been fasting and at the end of such a long fasting day everyone forgets smile. Cheers!Recommend

  • Asad

    @Parveen Don’t take this article an olympic specific rather it highlights the general mood of Pakistanis. There are so many things that gets affected with the way we behave with others. Apart from the national problems, the competeing atheletes of other nations would even be having personal grievances, but when it came to presenting their nation they showed the best of them.

    @Meiryum Very well written. You just wrote what I have been complaining about Pakistanis. As a Pakistani living abroad, I have seen many nationailities who’d without any substance behave as if they have conquered the Everest. We always remain apologetic, with dropped shoulders and would constantly like to be in state of stress. If we don;t have any worry, that’s a worry itself for us. It’s our oxygen and in our blood now to look stressed. We behave as if there is no solution of problems and we are the cause of all the problem in the world

    Although, we must recognized that these players were already in pressure. We have constatnly been dragged to defamation and its being done since the issue of spot fixing. Nevertheless all we expected atheletes to give the best of them, all you had to do is to smile even if it was fake. When I heard that our atheletes would be wearing national dress, i thought here we gonna be marching with pride, but my hopes shattered when I saw the face of Sohail Abbas with facial expression as if Scotland Yard has started investigation against himRecommend

  • Adnan

    Maybe its just the lack of self confidence in front of the whole world. They feel a lot of pressure on their heads as it is, considering the mainstream let downs of Pakistan as well.
    However, it would be different though, if more people who have studied in slightly posh, western oriented school/colleges participate in such events. There self confidence is usually observed to be way more then those who have studied in urdu medium schools and they surely know how to act in such situations. But the problem is that they would rather sit at home watching this in cold air conditioned rooms munching pop corns and friesRecommend

  • Namwar Rahman

    So offended am I by this piece of writinge, that I could not help but return and comment on it. I do not get what the analogy between Pakistan and Saudi Arab female representation. Why is it do derogatory for us to have the same number of athletes representing Pakistan as there are representing Saudi Arabia. It would have been appalling if Pakistan had world class training facilities that the women were not making use of. Fact of the matter is, despite the little difference in state-sponsored patriarchy between the two countries, the training facilities in Pakistan are not be much better that the one in Saudi Arab for women. So should we criticse our squad for not having enough female representation, or go perhaps a little higher up in the heirarchy.
    And since when are girls in the country made to feel comfortable with our bodies. Since when is a girl allowed to skip and dance as freely as you might see those in the Western countries. Isn’t the reaction of the women in the squad a little representative of the average girl in the country? At what level is the average woman not made to feel conscious of the people that are watching around her? When are they made to feel not aware of their bodies and let loose? And with the exception of some of the members of the hockey team, have the sportsmen in the squad ever had the slightest bit of limelight? Perhaps this was the first time the country, let alone the world was seeing them. Well excuse me, they are human after all and I would like to apologize on their behalf for being a wee bit self-conscious. Recommend

  • Hassan

    @Acorn Guts: u r right, our media just need news, however it comes, it deos not meant for themRecommend

  • Amna

    Pakistan ZindabadRecommend

  • Grammar Nazi

    For once I actually agree in the entirety of this article. For those who have reservations about so-called-cribbing; it’s not cribbing but just a pov which contemplates about WHY-SO-SERIOUSNESS of the Pakistani squad. Maybe they were just dead hungover or maybe the need to not have fun in the beautiful ceremony overcame their good sense. Now the whole world thinks that we are a bunch of no-good stuck ups. Which we are, actually.
    As for the emotional backlash regarding the author’s comments on the hairdo of one olympian, anybody would see that it was really greasy long hair. Facts are facts. Recommend

  • Nishant


    Maybe it had something to do with our
    chef de mission Aqil Shah who told all
    athletes to maintain discipline at the
    opening ceremony, as “He did not want
    any mishap leading to embarrassment”.


    remember what happened in the commonwealth opening ceremony

    the sports minister snatched the flag from the athlete who was to be the flag bearer and then shamelessly defended his action

    it is much better to be bland than to be offensive Recommend

  • uH

    We were actually declared as the’least smiling nation on earth’ a year or two back. Don’t remember the organization that conducted the survey, but i can totally believe it. Ironically enough:

  • Ali tanoli

    Whole world laughing at us as a nuclear power we are on others mercy then how we will smiled lady…Recommend

  • ThroneOfThorns

    So let me get this straight. You wrote an article on why a handful of people didn’t smile? ????Recommend

  • Dinky Mind

    I agree with the writer! We, as a nation, are so surrounded with worries that we have forgotten to smile. We have forgotten how to be happy and keep others around us happy.

    No wonder every country is faced with issues more or less like that. but I guess we need to have a lighter side as well. Recommend

  • Intelektual

    @Acorn Guts:
    Smiling and showing your sportsmen spirit when the eyes of whole world are at you and you are representing your Homeland is not an irrelevent detail and even if YOU think so thats just your personal opinion not a matter of fact ! also when a smile has got nothing to do with bland colours still putting your best foot forward and presenting the best of our cultural salwar kameez would not have hurt no one !Recommend

  • sherry

    @ author
    it was brilliant, seriously,Recommend

  • aysha

    I agree with you.. I was thinking the same thing. They looked angry and bored. The whole world was watching and they’re representing their country..could’ve at least smiled!
    We have so many talented designers in Pakistan but in front of the world we present hideous clothing and unapproachable faces! Recommend

  • Ali

    Well I live in Malaysia, needless to say, where I smile a lot. But the moment I enter Pakistan I see everyone’s face so depressed and so much lack of smile that I feel if I laugh or smile people will look at me, as if I am laughing at their mourning… Pakistan has indeed become a real sad place.Recommend

  • salman

    So agree with you. Well written article pointing out such an important aspect to our global representation. We’re going to be remembered as that non smiling, small, confidence lacking and most importantly BADLY dressed nation. What a put off!!!!!Recommend

  • H.M

    Excellently written. This was EXACTLY what my husband and I were cribbing about later. You captured it perfectly.Recommend

  • ainy

    i would have forgiven u if only u had taken an effort in finding out the name ans sports of this “greasy haired athlete” … this is an example of what a mindless rant is bloggingRecommend

  • Haris Javed

    Smile, Grin like a Cheshire cat.. . it’s tax free :pRecommend

  •!/Rehman0092 Rehman

    Dear me! Instead of bashing Pakistan Olympic member, why write didn’t appreciate Pakistan Olympic members that they were keen to wear national dress of Pakistan and returned back the clothes given by Olympic organisation!

    Answer is simple “Because it will not hit your daffy blog.”Recommend

  • K

    My only question to all those criticizing the Pakistani athletes for not smiling is, “Why was there nobody to welcome them?” The support back at home, all of us watching them on TV, was highly intangible for them at that particular point in time (it’s not exactly a two-way transmission yet, you know). So ‘why’ was it that not a single member of the Pakistani parliament was seen waving and welcoming their team from a midst the thick crowd? EVERY other country’s team, upon looking up as they marched, caught a glimpse of either their Prime Minister or their President or at least an ambassador proudly welcoming them. But what did Team Pakistan find? Not a single familiar face, not a single trace of their green and white existence. Yes, we’re a poor nation. And yes, our politicians have all the resources in this world to make foreign trips for medical check-ups and mere leisure. But when it comes to making an effort to boost the morale of national heroes and flag bearers, the same ‘leaders’ are no where to be seen. Hence, I agree with Robin, “its the politics which kills the best in us…”Recommend

  • yousaf

    @author::It is very hard for one to smile when non-performance is anticipated by someone deep down in his heart/mind.I do not hold participants in the contingent responsible,rather the fault lies back home of which volumes can be written but comment space does not allow it.Every one knows what went wrong and where.Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    its a fact … Pakistanis have forgotten to smile and laugh … Alas … secondly, the olympic contingent was not smiling thinking they have to go back to the pit again !!!!!Recommend

  • Zainab Imam

    Meiryum, I read almost all of your blogs, but this one has really been the best :) Recommend

  • yousaf

    @Rehman:: Dear,no offence,but the players have not gone to London for a dress-show Or to promote any dress designs that are worn by us.Olymics is an event of body fitness where one is supposed out-smart his/her opponent in various types of game and there fitness not dress counts.It is very easy to criticise someone only for the sake of criticism but I on my part can visualise the tears of patriotism in the eyes of the writer when she was writing these line Recommend

  • Habiba Younis

    athlete with greasy shoulder-length hair
    try not to pen down ‘psychological analysis’ when on baseline you are so ignorant of who you are writing about! Or else just be humble enough to spare such derogatory remarksRecommend

  •!/Rehman0092 Rehman

    Yea they went for Golgate photoshot fully agree with you! Recommend

  • AMP

    Fact is we are an awkward, self conscious people. Having observed desis of varying socioeconomic backgrounds in Saudi Arabia, Canada, and the US I would argue that the only desis that exhibit confidence and light heartledness abroad are either the really well off ones or the western educated ones (who are often the younger generation). As someone mentioned in an earlier comment, the rest of us behave as thought he world’s problems are our fault. Recommend

  • Pakistani in US

    I noticed the same thing. It’s just reflective of Pakistanis and their relation with the outside world at the moment (which is going through it’s worst time). Also with conservative leadership with archaic ideas running Pakistan in all spheres of our domestic and international politics, it’s no surprise that every department representing Pakistan outside the country reflects that attitude. Recommend

  • Farrukh Malik

    @Author: You are smiling in your picture with the blog its enough for you, people like you have killed the confidence of Pakistan you criticise on everything if they smile or if they not, let them go let them play, they are not wealthy like you they are not fully educated like you, let them have their confidence themselves, dont teach them and if you dont like them dont see them but stop criticising your own good things. Very sad to see this blog form you…….Recommend

  • Bilal

    A lot many people are rejecting the points you’ve made and consider it patriotic to support each and every act of your team. But there are somethings which really need to be taken care of. We could neglect their NON SMILING, if they were to win more medals than anyone. Par na medals jeten, na smile karen, na jolly rahen to phir fayeda?Recommend

  • Zeta

    Pointless blog. Tell me what is this

  • MAG

    We didn’t smile because we were not able to be there,we were not so competitive like those foreigners. Recommend

  • Zoon

    I was actually proud of the Pakistani group. They were self confident, graceful. Despite the fact they were being cheered on far less than most of the teams.
    Silly thing to write on. But then that’s my opinion. and this is a blog, where you can ramble yours. Recommend

  • avtar

    This is so true! Sohail Abbas looked as if he was murmuring curses or something to that effect, while the one hockey player with long hairs did indeed seem angry! I then expected a tleast some of the female members to smile, but nope, our’s ended up as perhaps the only contingent that seemed miffed at being called in the first place.Recommend

  • saad

    Actually its not just what pakistanis have shown no smile in olympics but the reason is we as a nation dont have any reason to smile left. we don’t have even a good time 4 a sec as well. SIMPLE reason is THERE WAS NO REASON OF SMILE LEFT WITH PAKISTAN.
    Your leaders your nation your doctors your engineers they have failed in making PAKISTAN smile…

    sms Recommend

  • Ghassan Khan

    You can’t judge people by their expressions. But you have the right to have your opinion.Recommend

  • Sania Munir

    I seriously do not agree with this article and some of the comments here too. Who says that we are poor and ashamed of ourselves or even khuar? Just visit the northern areas of pakistan and from the northeren areas i dont mean murree/naran/kaghan. I mean chitral, shandur, hunza, gilgit baltistan and notice the proud smiles and attitude the people over there have of our land and the hordes of foreigners who go back feeling over whelmed by the conduct of us pakistani’s and awestruck. So yeah before making comments about the over all nature of our nation, and the athletes i suggest you think twice.. Recommend

  • Amit

    Very good catch. Now that you mention it, every one noticed it but couldn’t put their finger on what was missing. It is extra important for Pakistanis to project a friendly and fun image during these troubled times when other countries pretty much assume that there will be closet (or not so closeted) Islamists in any group of Pakistanis. Recommend

  • yousaf

    THIS was the reason they did not smile.LAST HOPE of 800 meters too was the last to finish.Now won’t it be fair that those who criticised Ali should apologise to her?Recommend

  • klikcko

    Hi my name is Johnny and i like your blog. It is very nice. The design is jus stunning.Recommend

  • zahid ayman

    yes you are very right. i guess you hit the nail on the head. our nation has a tendency of being a little too patriotically pompous. too many heads are filled with hot air like a gas balloon. and for the record mullahs (well at least most of them) don’t smile much either. they look as of they are at a funeral. it shows lack of emotional maturity and the seriousness of a serial killer. take things as they come normally and smile, nay laugh, for life is too short to remain in a brooding mood. wake up pakistan and delight in the simple pleasures of life for happiness lies in experiences and not luxuries. to smell the fragrance of a rose or to jump into a cool lake is far more satisfying than buying a 8000 rupee perfume or getting a swimming pool membership of some costly gym. life is not going to last forever so enjoy it before it passes into the infinity of death.Recommend

  • ZainabShaukat

    I was present there right in the front seat representing my country as I had gone as a guest from Pakistan. My team that you people keep on criticising. Yes they waved back wen they saw Pakistanis in the crowd waving at them and cheering for them. Also. The picture above is of the time they has just come out and started their paarade. All teams were like that till they fully came out nd then got the feel. I hate all you criticising little irritating little freaks!! Always taking out negative things about ones own country!! Do you people ever have anything nice to say? Recommend

  • ZainabShaukat

    I agree maybe our chef de mission must have told the. To act disciplined! But that was the time for them to show them their real emotions! They maybe had to control them at first but then they were seen waving back as they saw Pakistanis in the crowd waving for them. I loved my team. I just couldn’t imagine the emotions they must have been going through. All the players there. It was their dream come true. I wish I was a part of their team. The happiness u get just participating Im sure cannot be compared to anything else. Recommend

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