Pakistan will have to look beyond cricket to make its presence felt in the international sporting arena
It is impossible to understand contemporary societies and cultures without acknowledging the place of sports. The situation becomes complex in societies like ours, where sports is considered a waste of time. Cricket dominates the national sporting landscape as a mono sport.
Sports' social and commercial power makes it a very potent force in the modern world, for good and for bad. It can be a tool of dictatorship and also a symbol of democratic change. Almost every government around the globe commits public resources for developing sports infrastructure because of its perceived health, commercial, political, social and human development benefits.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is a glaring example whereby the government of Qatar, realising its perceived benefits not only committed mammoth financial resources in developing eight mega football stadiums but choreographed the entire event from Hayya Hayya, the official soundtrack, to its closing ceremony for 32 top football teams of the world in a manner so that Qatar emerges as a new social and commercial hub for the world.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup is not only an action-packed show of football skills but also a display of competing notions of identity.
Over the decades, owing to the efforts of authorities, the game of cricket has become a force next only to religion in Pakistan.
Not only do sports channels televise cricket for days but even news channels cover cricket in their regular transmission and morning shows for an extended air time.
Social historians ask questions about the nature and place of sports in societies. How and why people construct a particular form of a sport and how it travels around the world and what it means to different groups of people.
In order to understand the evolution of sports in the Subcontinent, Ramchandra Guha's book "A Corner of a Foreign Field: The Indian History of British Sport" is an excellent read. Guha observes the commercialisation of modern cricket and carries out an analysis of cricket as a microcosm of the fissures and tensions within the subcontinental societies.
Another interesting book in this regard is C. L. R. James' Beyond a Boundary. It describes the relationship between the sport and Caribbean society during the 1950s and 60s. James in his book presents cricket as a sport and a metaphor, the property of the coloniser and the colonised.
A sport sociologist once said about Swedish society: "Nothing awakens Swedish national feeling so easily and strongly as sporting success. Glorious history, royalty, a splendid army, democracy and the welfare system, ancient ideas & traditions, Volvo and other great companies, none of these things can measure up to sport in providing bonds of national solidarity or in creating collective consciousness of one's country."
This all is possible when sports become an integral part of society and is not viewed as labour or just an extracurricular activity by a few in isolation. It is obvious that sports help in the process of national reconciliation, providing a safety valve to the emotional energy of frustrated people. Sports, if understood and applied in the process of social development, help in building national identity and patriotism.
The Labour PM of UK, Harold Wilson, made great political mileage out of England's football victory of 1966 World Cup.
In the 1970s, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania often remarked that developing nations can easily bridge gaps between national and global recognition with the help of sports.
During the 1980s the leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) Party in South Africa were somewhat similar to that of Pakistan. The ANC leaders believed little in the power of sport and often said that "One cannot play normal sports in abnormal society".
In the early 1990s came President Mandela who transformed South African society with the help of sport in the post-apartheid era.
Pakistan also had its chances in near past when a sportsman-turned-politician took charge of the country. But he could not exploit its potential.
Mono sports culture has its pitfalls and limitations for countries that possess huge youth populations. Most of the countries divide their sports seasons in different quarters. The USA, the UK and Australia have quarterly seasons spread over the year for sports with global appeal like football, basketball, baseball, rugby and tennis. Each sport has its icons, that have seasonal lives and despite being supper athletes, they never grow larger than the game.
In our case there is only one sport that has grown larger than society and engulfed the entire national sports paradigm. Unfortunately, field hockey, once a popular national sport, died a slow death because of the inability of the PHF to market its product.
Besides lack of vision and leadership inadequacies, we failed to invest in track and field, swimming and gymnastics at grassroots that resulted in growth of sports like cricket in which the factor of chance dominates skill and fitness.
Pakistan has a large base of young population. With the right vision, marketing strategies and development priorities coupled with media support, many sports and games have the potential to grow and churn out social icons worthy of recognition.
We hope that policy makers and national media sit together to help potential athletes and federations develop other sports so that the youngsters get more opportunities to showcase their abilities and grow as local, national and international heroes.