Governments should encourage sports, not sports festivals

Published: March 31, 2014
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One wonders how many stadiums were constructed or inaugurated by the provincial government in Punjab. Tens of millions of rupees have been spent on records and events that you won’t even class as sport. DESIGN / ILLUSTRATION: JAMAL KHURSHID AND TALHA KHAN

One wonders how many stadiums were constructed or inaugurated by the provincial government in Punjab. Tens of millions of rupees have been spent on records and events that you won’t even class as sport. PHOTO: FILE One wonders how many stadiums were constructed or inaugurated by the provincial government in Punjab. Tens of millions of rupees have been spent on records and events that you won’t even class as sport. DESIGN / ILLUSTRATION: JAMAL KHURSHID AND TALHA KHAN A marathon race organised by the government of Punjab as part of its sports festival in Lahore. PHOTO: SHAHBAZ MALIK/EXPRESS

While the world develops sports through long term planning and investment, in Pakistan, it is still stuck within an outdated system – a system where everything is done to boost the government’s reputation, much like a communist state. This system has become more evident nowadays, with provincial governments taking it to next level to prop up their image and use sports as a propaganda tool.

Sport, like many other important issues of this country – health and education, for instance – have been made provincial subjects under the landmark 18th Amendment. Since then onwards, sports has seen a steady decline at national level in the funds being provided to this field.

Provincial governments, however, have realised how to use this deprivation to their advantage.

Youth festivals or sports festivals (whatever you want to call it) were something that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government introduced in its final year in office between 2012 and 2013, during the Pakistan Peoples Party’s era.

The PML-N must have seen this event take place across the border, initiated by Indian Punjab chief minister, Parkash Singh Badal’s government. Just like the laptop scheme of Tamil Nadu’s Jayalalita’s government was adopted by the Punjab government, sports ideas were also quickly taken up and used to give the youth an avenue to express themselves.

This step is not something that I agree with because when a country lacks even the most basic of sports infrastructure, with no proper management or professionalism, such events amount to nothing much. What today’s Pakistani sports don’t lack, however, are the Babus (representatives) who are willing to appease their rulers or political leaders by encouraging such useless gimmicks.

Whilst Sukhbir Singh Badal, son of CM Punjab (India), has taken keen interest to develop sports infrastructure throughout Punjab and is bringing international sports to the state, in Pakistan’s side of Punjab, sadly, the situation is totally opposite.

One wonders how many stadiums were constructed or inaugurated by the provincial government in Punjab. Tens of millions of rupees have been spent on records and events that you won’t even class as sport. And now this trend has been taken up by other provinces and, unfortunately, they aren’t doing anything better with it either.

The Sindh festival was a much talked-about event; although it focused primarily on cultural and musical events – and drew a lot criticism for that – there was also a low key sports aspect to it. It is safe to say that while the Punjab government aims to get its mileage through sports, Sindh event didn’t even make an attempt for it. Their induction and portrayal of sports at the festival was just a formality and nothing more.

Following Sindh was the Balochistan government, which had its own version of a sports festival. The festival was a very short one, amongst other things. However, you have to cut some slack for the Balochistan government, given they are in power for the first time and the province has safety issues with a dismal lack of infrastructure, as compared to the aforementioned two provinces.

If sport can be used as a tool for peace in Balochistan, then it should be given extra attention but it has to be done properly – not just as a gimmick to please the authorities.

Sindh and Punjab have seen the same parties in and out of power over the decades, and these parties have done very little to show for in terms of sports infrastructure or any concrete steps for sports development.

After seeing the so-called ‘populist’ festivals and the criticism they drew from the new entrants, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

I was surprised to see an advertisement about a youth sports festival being publicised through social media and other broadcast channels by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government.

So a party, that had been criticising youth festivals and the expenses incurred by them everywhere, goes on and does the exact same thing, and introduces another futile sports festival?

Whatever intentions the K-P government may have had about this festival – which they claim are different from what the other provincial governments did – it is not going to solve anything.

These sports festivals aren’t catering to the challenges faced by Pakistan’s sports sections at grassroots and professional levels. There is a need for each province to develop a sports policy and implement it with the same level of zeal as shown for these sports festivals. This may not get these governments their instant fame or sparkling headlines but, in five to ten years, one will see things improving.

The need to invest in stadiums, playing fields and school sports is crucial for Pakistan to progress and win new trophies for the country. Depending upon past laurels need to stop.

However, one can’t hope for much from these parties because many politicians are currently heading a number of sports bodies at national and provincial levels with nothing substantial done so far – yet they continue to rule and enjoy the perks.

So perhaps the first thing these political parties should do is to hold their own leaders accountable for their miserable performances with sports organisations. The second thing they should work upon is to reform sports bodies and introduce sports with proper coaching as part of every school’s curriculum.

Some of Pakistan’s major cities don’t even have sports stadiums – and no, I am not talking about your usual cricket stadiums – where football, hockey, athletics and others sports can be played. Therefore, investments in such projects should be done, which will not only increase the status of sports in the country but would also benefit the governments – these projects can be useful as publicity stunts, just like other development projects are for the government.

Sport is a business and it’s about time Pakistanis realised this because there is nobody more enterprising than them.

Shahrukh Sohail

Shahrukh Sohail

The writer is the CEO of a digital marketing firm called WonderWorks, a football consultant and former Chief Editor of FootballPakistan.com. Shahrukh tweets as @ShahrukhSohail7 twitter.com/shahrukhsohail7

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