Articles of the year 2007

Sports in Pakistan
Published on February 02nd, 2007

The controversy raging in Pakistan over the status of Sport in Pakistan is not only unseemly but is being fought for the wrong reasons and for the wrong aims. The tussle for the control of the POA is being justified because of the non-performance of the sportsmen /Athletes in their various disciplines at International levels. However, we have to look carefully at Sports and their place in Historical and Geographical Context:

Historically Sport has been the showcase for the youth of a country to run faster,longer,jump, higher further, than his competitors--for himself and his country. In peace time this was the preferred manner of showing a country's superiority. ( A case in point would be the 1936 Olympics where the much touted Aryan supremacy showcased by the Third Reich was so badly exposed by the legendary Jesse Owens.) These activities were encouraged to improve the human species, and to produce better hunters and soldiers. These competitive pursuits were used by the Govt of the day to showcase their political agendas. Govts may not have fallen over a lost football match, but the political fallout could certainly rattle the cages.

In the last century we saw the transition from the amateur status, where it had been the Rich who could indulge in the pursuits of leisure sports, and the Poor who could not afford the time or the funding for something that had no financial reward. So the Olympic Games were a preserve of the rich and the privileged. However the money started flowing in when the Boxing Champions were hyped up by the Media, then TV did the rest.. And as the other sports realized that the financial rewards were huge, the age of professionals had begun.In Pakistan we have not yet evolved to the next level, and we are still at the takeoff stage. There are only two Games in which a large following and participation has been built up.

Cricket: With Imran's winning the World cup, the whole country rejoiced , and we had entered the big league. Cricket was being played in every street and anywhere . It was no longer only the boys from Aichison college or Lawrence College, but the streets of Pakistan produced the new wave of heroes. Wasim Akram ,Waqar Yunus, Javed Miandad., These are but a few of the stars that emerged and fought their way to the financial rewards that would have been unthinkable 50 years earlier. Even today, Inzamam and Shoaib cannot converse in English, they express themselves eloquently enough with bat and ball. The streets of Pakistan are almost like Brazil in the number of impromptu taped ball matches being played at any given time.

Snooker: One man – Asghar Valika has put snooker on the Pakistan map through his televising the tournaments, and with the Red and White advert has subtly brought Glamour into the mind of the youth so we now have Snooker tables that instead of being the exclusive domain of the Army messes or of the Gymkhana clubs, are to be found in Peshawar and the serafa bazaars of Quetta.!!! The promise of financial rewards has brought new blood into the game and the old guard is being challenged by the new kids who have in the short space of 5 years started winning the matches regularly, and we have produced a world Amateur Champion, and may soon get a world Professional champion as well. Difficult, but with the number of kids entering the game it is only a matter of time. Boxing: Again one man Professor Anwar Chaudri has single handedly put Pakistan on the map. Every single medal earned by our Boxers is due entirely to his efforts. He raised all the funds in the past, and brought in a Cuban coach. He has shown his harvest of medals in the SAF games. No mean feat. He also managed to host the Olympic prequalifiers in Karachi when 38 countries took part. It is safe to say that Pakistan has never hosted so many countries in one event here. The saddest part was that not one Multi National sponsored the event.--- Not one of the Pakistani Banks was present. In fact they were conspicuous in their absence.

Squash : Sadly this is one game which was a preserve of the Khan family, and will need a far greater commitment from the newcomers, for, in not having the huge technical advantage enjoyed by Hashim Khan etc and lastly Jehangir and Jansher, the new boys do not have the commitment for hard work to build their stamina to the requisite level. I still remember Jonah Barrington telling us how he would run 3 miles every day at 4am every morning through the streets of London. That hard work gave him the World Championship of Squash till he was beaten by Geoff Hunt who did his 3 miles a day on the beach in sand.! These two greats showed that hard work can and will win. For Sports to flourish in Pakistan, we need to bring glamour into play. The achievements of Beckham on the football pitch have been amply rewarded off the pitch. His following of fans is far far greater than his wife's who started as the bigger star, but is nowhere near as famous. TV should be used to reach out to the masses of the poor youth, that this is one way out of the poverty trap, and the streets of Lyari, can produce players like*** who played for Mohammedan in the 40s. Football is the game of today, and the Karachi kid is no stranger to the game. He must be given the opportunity. There are not enough tournaments. Many more should be played, and the schools should be encouraged to do so.

In fact sports should be compulsory in all schools and the Karachi schools should have football as a part of their curriculum. We have to cast the net as wide as possible. Children from the kinder garden level should be involved. The formative years are precisely the ages from 5-12 . After that the child cannot learn anymore. This is evidenced by the fact that the Army wins the highest number of medals in the National meets in Pakistan, but none internationally. Because when a boy joins the Army, he is already 17 years old. He cannot possibly be groomed for international status. Its too late for that. The child has to picked from the age of 5. If we are indeed to make great plans for the future Sports must be made a part of education. The role of glamour, stardom, cannot be overemphasized. Can you imagine Beckhams mother complaining to her husband--- " look at young David, he'll not amount to much, all he does is play football." Today it is his wife who looks up to him as the superstar.

It must be emphasised that sports is the way out of the poverty trap, for the youngsters. Not only must they be allowed to play and practice, they must be encouraged to do so. All the sporting heroes should be constantly be taken on tours of these areas, so that the children can come face to face with their heroes, and get autographs /photos etc they must see the adulation they could get if they were to get there.

The role of the Govt should be to provide the infrastructure, the stadiums, the swimming pools, the Gymnasiums, the Tennis/Squash Courts. And to regulate the activities and assist in the funding of the poorer sports. Today Cricket is the only sport where the PCB is wealthy, and can afford the luxury of foreign coaches. They can plan for the short and the long term, unfortunately they seem to be doing neither. The performance of the Captain and the team has plummeted to yet another low bringing the PCB Chairman ,Selectors the foreign coach, all under intense criticism. Rest assured no one is about to resign--- nobody does in Pakistan, so we shall muddle along as we are . Cricket has been lucky, and the imagination of the youth is fired up so that we can expect more batsmen, speedsters and spinners. With the number of children caught up in the game we have more talent than we know what to do with. We need to bring about a similar interest in the other sports. We should target football and ensure that the children, as there is a world wide interest in the game. The Arab countries have forged ahead by starting at the youngest level and bringing Brazilian coaches to train their youngsters. Till they succeeded in qualifying for the world cup finals. No mean feat, when they could never even play a County team in England. The game was promoted at all levels, and the results are there for all to see.

In Pakistan the all powerful bureaucracy thinks that as they are running the Govt departments they are best choice to decide even this aspect of Public life. Not so. Sports are to be considered as an economic pursuit with all the care and planning that goes with it. The procurement of raw material, the training, polishing, then the final test , with all the hype and marketing to fill the arena, TV spots to be sold, Revenues to be generated to pay for all that has been invested, and to reap the reward. It is all big business, and cannot be left to the Govt. bureaucrat. That is why we have such beautiful stadiums which are never used. The National Stadium Karachi was used for only one international match last year. Similarly the Peoples Stadium Lyari has only hosted one football match last year. This stadium in the heart of Lyari is lying empty, and if it was not for the Rangers occupying the area,it would have been stripped of all its facilities long ago.

We need a fresh approach to games in Pakistan. We must generate revenues, by utilizing the stadiums, and let the youngsters see for themselves how they can use their talent honed into a skill through hard work, and then reap the financial reward, and the adulation of the crowd. All of this will lift them out of their poverty, and their true merit shall be recognized and rewarded.