Decline of Sports in Pakistan
Sports builds courage, discipline, leadership qualities, and a sense of unity in an individual thus leading to a prosperous nation. It doesn’t matter what sport: it could be the conventional physical sports we’ve been playing since the dawn of history or it could be e-sports which have just recently taken birth. In Pakistan, sports have been at a decline, not from the ones who play them but from the ones who should encourage, fund, and organize them.
Quaid-e-Azam, on the occasion of the first national games of Pakistan in Karachi, said “Dedicate yourself to sports promotion, for when you and I are gone, leadership will go into the hands of Youth, and Youth is our wealth, a raw material, that must be hammered into shape, into burnished steel to strive and smite in defense – the defense of the integrity and solidarity of Pakistan – the defense of the ideology of Pakistan.”
Apart from cricket, which also seems to be in decline, sports in Pakistan do not seem to be making progress at any level. As cricket is already discussed by many writers and analysts, I shall be of critique to some of the other sports that have been grossly neglected over the past two to three decades.
Pakistan’s Sporting Glory
There is no doubt of the Pakistani youth’s talent, inbuilt physical potential, and mental robustness for every sport. When the youth were provided the resources and motivation, Pakistan made some of the greatest sporting legends, and still many of the talented people of Pakistan are making a name for themselves regardless of having financial support from the government such as Muhammad Asif (Snooker) and Jahangir Khan in Squash.
Pakistan’s Kabbadi team also won the Kabbadi World Cup in 2020. The Sports Board of Pakistan handles 41 federations under it. Due to corruption, mismanagement, politics, and indifference by the government, it has never been able to function properly. Rather, it ultimately caused the sports federations to be dragged down.
India has a fully functioning sports board that has control over 56 sporting federations, and it has actually helped to bolster the country’s sporting structure at all stages. Similarly, other South Asian countries have also built some good club-based sports infrastructures for their youth at all levels.
The Pakistan Sports Board has been a victim of so much corruption and politics which has abysmally permeated into the sports federations to the extent that factually it is at a stand-still and has worsened over time. Let’s start with our country’s national sport hockey. Pakistan has triumphed countless times in hockey in the past, bagging 4 world cup titles to its name, which, too, are the most titles won by a country to this day.
Unfortunately, dark days were to come for our national sport when our team failed to qualify for the hockey world cup in 2014; it is equivalent to imagining a FIFA world cup without Brazil or other great teams of football. Although Pakistan did qualify in 2018, the country could not perform well. The organizing structure is still in shambles, the governments of the past decade have given no attention whatsoever to the sporting bodies as a whole.
Hockey grounds are in ruins, the little amount of money the government pours into the hockey federation is swindled away. There seems to be a very poorly organized structure at the grassroots level which is unable to up-root the hockey talent. The basic infrastructure and the nurseries that would actually grow talent – school grounds, parks, and community-based hockey grounds – have been dwindled and vanished away because of corruption. Builder mafias converted the grounds into marquees or china cutting.
Football has been destroyed completely due to political scuffles and the vested interests of certain individuals and groups since the set up of its Pakistan Football Federation (PFF). Although Pakistan may be the largest producer of footballs which are used at the international level in matches conducted by FIFA, the irony of that is its own team’s footprint seems to have vanished completely.
Just recently, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) has been banned by FIFA due to a take-over by a group headed by Syed Ashfaq Ahmed. FIFA had already installed a normalization committee in PFF, but the Supreme Court of Pakistan interfered and advised to hold an election, and due to the results of those elections, Ashfaq Ahmed had the mandate to be PFF president till 2022.
This group was not recognized by FIFA, as FIFA already had its own normalization committee functioning. This resulted in the suspension of the PFF. The normalization committee was set up by FIFA to bring stability into the federation after its previous suspension. It was instructed to carry out elections but, unfortunately, even the normalization committee failed to deliver on time.
This resulted the Ashfaq-led group taking over the PFF by forced means. What does the suspension result in? Firstly, the suspension means that the Pakistan National Football Team would not be allowed to participate in any International events organized by FIFA. No qualifiers, no friendly matches, no technical support, no funding, nothing.
Second, the domestic matches and events being organized by PFF will not be recognized by FIFA, which means that the players playing in them are literally playing for nothing, their records are not accounted for, and they will not be given any future opportunities. While the powerful people fight for their greed to secure their personal interests, the dreams of thousands of football players across the country have been crumbled.
The British introduced football when they arrived in the sub-continent. It became very popular with the Baloch and Hazara communities as well as people from the Pakhtun areas. As a matter of fact, our Quaid, Muhammad Ali Jinnah really liked the game and used to enjoy it during his years in Britain. The Britons even organized the Durand Cup which still takes place to this day in India.
The Durand cup was established right after the well-known FA Cup and that’s why PFF was the first to emerge in 1948 when Quaid-e-Azam was still alive. Pakistan has immense talent for football, the sport is inexpensive, which enables most of our youth to play it but, yet again, as mentioned above, the structure is disoriented.
The Pakistan national team used to play matches across Asia and it performed well, beating some of the current football Asian giants as well. Once, on a football tour to Iran in 1950, the Pakistan national team played their matches bare-footed; among the crowd was also the Shah of Iran who looked on to the astonishing sight.
It will be appropriate to mention that other than cricket, the second game that is also played on the streets, parks, and any open spaces is football, so you can imagine the God gifted talent for this game in our country. Unfortunately, we have just not been able to properly advocate for the exciting game in our land. We find tremendous potential in Pakistan youth for this popular game, but we need an all-encompassing approach for creating a sound and permanent structure.
Squash and Snooker
Then we have games like squash, snooker, and track and field. There was once a time when even squash was dominated by Pakistan’s great Jahangir Khan. He won the World Open six times and the British Open a staggering ten times. Since he retired, Pakistan has never found such a jewel again. Squash turned into another game neglected by the government of Pakistan.
In snooker, Pakistan does shine from time to time even today. In 2019, Muhammad Asif, a Pakistani cueist won the IBSF World Snooker Championship. The Pakistan Billiards and Snooker Federation in light of their massive achievement requested the government to give them an increase in funds but unfortunately, the government rejected their plea.
Fall in Olympics
Pakistan’s performance in the Olympics has deteriorated significantly in the past twenty to thirty years. In the 2016 Olympics, Pakistan could not manage to win even one gold, silver or bronze, medal. Our track and field athletes have access to very poor equipment and they were put up against some of the best athletes from the world; it is a miracle that they managed to even qualify for the Olympics.
The blame is solely on the representatives of the people and the local governments who have been unable to bring out the talent from our great nation. China was nowhere to be seen at the top in the Olympics before the 1990s. If we look at the trend, some of the most advanced countries have the best athletes, for example, the US, Germany, Japan, China, and England.
These countries pay attention to their sporting culture and they make sure that their people are given all the right accessibilities to pursue their dreams in whatever sport they would like. I believe that even Pakistan should start some restructuring at the grassroots level and encourage its youth to indulge in sports.
Even at colleges and universities, a definite structure must be formed for each and every sport. In America, the majority of the athletes are picked up from colleges and universities, and then they’re further polished. In Germany, before WWII, it was made compulsory for every person to be involved in sports, and this created a sense of superiority in Germans. Germany became such a resilient nation that it created miracles and exponential progress in the economic spectrum.
It is very important that the government offers scholarships to those students who are exceptionally good in any one sport, so they may be able to pursue their dreams in that sport without worrying about the lack of funds. Sometimes scholarships are also provided by the government, but they become victims of corruption which eradicates the meritocracy of the selection, causing genuine sportsmen to be deprived of their rights.
E-sport is an emerging sport that has a lot of our youth involved. Pakistani players involved in E-sport are doing exceptionally well and off-course without any government assistance. The future will definitely be focused on e-sports. I pray that it does not become a victim of politics and corruption. A lot of money is involved in this sport and where there is money, the virus of corruption is bound to infect unless checks and balances are set up for strict accountability.
The present government has introduced the concept of a clubs system in cricket. Our Prime Minister is a great sportsman himself and he has tried to bring reforms in our sporting community which is still being resisted by the mafia. However, this concept would not function in Pakistan as it requires massive amounts of money and defeating mafias which is an uphill task.
The concept of clubs in western countries is successful because of rich local community resources and sponsors. Here, though it is a good idea to be implemented, it will take extra effort to bear its fruits. Therefore, we have to continue with departmental sports until the clubs can take over in the future.
I must mention our PM has set a personal example by making a cricket ground in Bani gala for the local youth. However, the government will need to coordinate for appropriate supporting measures for different games as per the area potentials. We also need to pay attention to school games with the provision of adequate sports facilities.
If we look at the history of Pakistan, in the beginning, schools and educational institutions were specially focusing on the sports field and we saw dividends paid in the past not only in games but also in nation-building. It needs yearly based forecasts of sports programs to be conducted consistently under an organized body.
A dedicated Sports Commission should be set up to frame, coordinate, oversee, and be accountable for all sports activities at all levels right from nurseries, emerging to the national level. A highest level inquiry committee should tackle the football issue for its immediate corrective measures for the future of the football game and player’s good prospects.
We require a comprehensive and pragmatic sports plan involving the community, educational institutions, departments, private enterprises, and sponsors to come forward and play their role for nation-building through sports spirit.
Nelson Mandela once said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”
If you want to submit your articles and/or research papers, please check the Submissions page.
The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.