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Sports narrative of Pakistan

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Sports narrative
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Major Amir Bilal |

Sports Narrative of Pakistan is anchored in its golden decades of the fifties and sixties when Pakistani athletes achieved monumental successes at Olympic, world, Commonwealth and Asian levels. Pakistan inherited a composite sports system from British India. In the presence of Christian missionary schools and colleges and Sports clubs run by YMCA and YWCA, sports flourished in Pakistan. Most of the sportspeople who joined the ranks and files of Pakistan’s national outfits during this golden era were products of the British sports systems.

While taking no credit away from the Pakistan stalwarts, we must mention that scientific interventions in the sports world during these decades were still evolving and our committed athletes had a relatively easier time. Pakistan produced such amazing athletes as Ghulam Raziq, the indomitable hurdler, Abdul Khaliq, once the fastest man in Asia, Mubarak Shah, the long distance champion, Muhammad Iqbal, the hammer thrower, and Nawaz and Jalal, the javelin throw masters. They will all be remembered beside the best men’s field hockey team of the world.

Olympic bodies and provincial academies and federations. It should also review the programmes run by colleges and universities related to sports sciences and sports management.

The sports history of Pakistan is full of distinguished boxers, bodybuilders, cricketers, weightlifters, wrestlers and squash players. However, it is unfortunate that like many other institutions, sports also failed to sustain and grow as a national priority. Sports activities in the country were reduced to a matter of chance and personal interest only. With poor policy discussions in the mid-eighties, sports were de-linked from the ministry of education and youth affairs that triggered a regressive process of sports interest among the youth.

Pakistan has been showing glimpses of brilliance occasionally but that is due to individual interest, comparatively low level of international competition, fewer scientific interventions and due to the existence of financial support extended to sportspeople through departments. Over a period of time, the departmental sports structure also contracted because of the financial crunch and lack of mentoring and institutional patronage. The ten-year long Afghan-Soviet war, besides bringing many social ills, impacted the sports activities in the country. During this time a lot of Pakistani youth went to the Middle East, seeking labor and blue collar jobs.

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Many mujahid organizations emerged and roped in the uneducated and underprivileged youth. Besides, the flow of easy money gave birth to a rat race of property business. Open spaces were converted into commercial plazas and housing societies with little space left for organized sports. Land grabbers backed by influential politicians and property dealers started grabbing open spaces and converted government allocated spaces for sports into commercial plazas and private schools. The 1992 World Cup victory in England opened the floodgates of limited overs cricket and money started flowing into cricket.

Sports Narrative of Pakistan is anchored in its golden decades of the fifties and sixties when Pakistani athletes achieved monumental successes at Olympic, world, Commonwealth and Asian levels. Pakistan inherited a composite sports system from British India.

The game suited the small structured yellow race which was behind Europe and Americas in Olympic sports because of various reasons. Complicating the situation, Pakistan plunged into an unwanted war on terror after 9/11, thus closing all avenues of international sports activity in the country. At this stage, the narrative of Pakistan was extremely confused and self-destructive, showing no hope to its youth, who had nothing to look forward except cricket.  Thus, the youth was left with little choice. Sports bodies were occupied by cliques of non-professional people. Though sports activities continued, sports were never understood, studied and researched deeply.

Khawaja Junaid, a celebrated hockey Olympian, ex-captain and a qualified FIH coach while talking to ‘The News’ said:  “There is no dearth of sports talent in Pakistan but our sportsmen suffer due to lack of educated resource persons in the present sports system and that is the major reason of our downfall in international sports.” Khawaja Junaid emphasized revival of sports culture at the grassroots level by bringing sports back to education in the country.

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The lack of qualitative research in the field of sports, and our inability to adopt the analytical and scientific training methodology and lack of understanding about sports as a catalyst for nation-building brought us to the present doleful state, in which sports are considered extra-curricular activity, a waste of time for serious students and an activity for only those nations who are rich and have good security situation and friendly tourism environment. This unfortunate situation in sports bred mediocrity and gave way to unprofessional ethics and deceitful practices in sports system, which was either governed by uneducated ex-sportsmen or self-declared sports professionals who had little knowledge of latest developments in sports sciences, sports sociology, philosophy, psychology, management and epistemology of sports.

These sports pundits coined the existing sports narrative of Pakistan that revolves around the unavailability of sufficient sports infrastructure, poor financial state and lack of job opportunities for sportspeople. Brig Arif Siddiqui (Retd), former DG Pakistan Sports Board and a national football player of his time, condemned the existing sports system. “If we have to salvage Pakistan sports, we must start from the scratch,” he said. “No education shall be considered complete without sports,” he added. Brig Arif was of the opinion that after devolution of power to the provinces there is no requirement of keeping a federal sports minister. In provinces, a secretary under the provincial education minister would look after the sports affairs of the province, he added.

Many mujahid organizations emerged and roped in the uneducated and underprivileged youth. Besides, the flow of easy money gave birth to a rat race of property business. Open spaces were converted into commercial plazas and housing societies with little space left for organized sports.

He was of the opinion that PSB and all provincial sports boards should be reorganized and kept under strict scrutiny. In the absence of a robust national sports policy anchored in a well-defined education system and a visible dual career path for the sportspeople, the dream of creating a professional sports environment in Pakistan will remain elusive. Sports are considered the true reflection of a country’s socio-economic condition. Most of the countries that are low in the Human Development Index (HDI) are also low in sports development index.

However, the leadership of several developing and least developed countries (LDCs) have realized the importance of sports as an engine of the economy, a source of generating jobs for the youth, and a catalyst for development. David Joyace, one of the first people in the world to hold master’s degree in both sports science and sports medicine and having trained, rehabilitated and maintained multiple World and Olympic champions, in his highly rated book “High performance Training for Sports” states: “There is a vast difference between elite athletes of today compared to those from previous generations. The rules and objectives of sports may have been similar, but the process undertaken to become the best in the world is markedly different.

“The sports success is no more left to the extraordinary skill set of the player but it requires long term planning, stability, and commitment from the top. It is no longer a goal attainable for the committed amateur. The new technology development and ever advancing physiological research has meant that what was considered cutting edge 10 years ago is now considered old and outdated,” he says.

In this fast changing milieu, Pakistan needs to take a fresh start with a new, realistic and scientific sports narrative that may lead to a comprehensive sports policy and develop Pakistan as a powerhouse of sports. Keeping in view the opinion of great sports scientists and philosophers like David Joyace, Juan Antorio Samaanch, and Johan Olav Koos, Pakistan will have to make a clear choice. Do we want to remain just a cricketing nation with limited opportunities for youth or to rise above this weary status and emerge as a dominant sports force?

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Lt Gen Arif Hassan (Retd), President POA, in a brief interview said that Pakistan Sports Board functioning and elite sports development in Pakistan needed attention along with infrastructure development of sports at the community level. The General said that sports in Pakistan can’t flourish without the support of qualified human resource. He also revealed that POA would soon open an Olympic Education Centre in the country with the help of IOC to promote Olympic education.

Pakistan’s sports narrative has to be a vision of hope for its youth, who are willing to take up sports as a profession. This narrative has to be sustainable, which will only be possible with the support of long-term private-public partnerships, strong parliamentarian resolve and meaningful legislation for infrastructure and human development.

Ahsan Ayaz, the most promising under-19 Pakistani squash player who won the Under-19 World Squash Championship in 2016, said that sports needed to be promoted and coached at schools and colleges. He admitted that despite the abundance of talent our players go down in international tournaments because of lack of scientific training approach. The success of any sports policy in the country will depend on the human resource managing these programmes at all levels. Pakistan sports desperately need a qualified human resource in terms of coaches, trainers, physios, sports psychologists, administrators, sport medicines experts, and referees.

Unfortunately, the sports programmes and degrees offered by Pakistani universities don’t match the international standards. Our sports human resource is unable to apply the modern sports programmes. There are few universities in Pakistan offering degrees in sports sciences and sports psychology and administration. Even those universities which do offer relevant courses do not have sufficiently qualified faculty, which means they are playing with the future of youth.

This unfortunate situation in sports bred mediocrity and gave way to unprofessional ethics and deceitful practices in sports system, which was either governed by uneducated ex-sportsmen or self-declared sports professionals who had little knowledge of latest developments in sports sciences, sports sociology, philosophy, psychology, management and epistemology of sports.

The present structure of sports in Pakistan needs a complete overhaul and there have to be short-, medium- and long-term strategies. Instead of remaining confused and handling sports through the Ministry for Inter-Provincial Coordination, the government should establish a National Sports Committee (NSC) or National Institute of Sports Development (NISD) with an act of Parliament. It should act as a sports think tank and provide policy input on sports directly to the Prime Minister.

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It should also act as the conduit of sports excellence and a centre of advanced research in the areas of sports management, sport sciences, sport medicine and development of sports. It should be empowered to check activities and conduct performance audits of PSB, POA, provincial sports boards, Olympic bodies and provincial academies and federations. It should also review the programmes run by colleges and universities related to sports sciences and sports management.

While we cherish our golden sports past, the new narrative should provide enabling the environment for nurturing competitive sports culture. It should complement the efforts to attain United Nations’ SDGs, paving ways of development and progress through sports in the country.

Sports are neither a burden on national economy nor an impediment to development, but an engine for economy and development and means to strengthen the socio-economic order. It is indeed a force multiplier to strengthen the federation and promote peace and harmony among provinces. It is, therefore, imperative for our policymakers to view sports through this proposed narrative and include sports into the development policies of Pakistan.

Major Aamir Bilal is Manager of Corporate Communication at Mari Petroleum Company Private Limited, Islamabad. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 


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