The challenges of sports development

February 26, 2023

If we want to succeed at the international level then we will have to devise a system that can spot talent at a very young age

The challenges of sports development

The Kamyab Jawan programme was launched in 2019 as an initiative to bring improvement in the lives of Pakistani youth by the PTI government. It was part of the PM’s youth programme which aimed to provide quality education and meaningful employment to the struggling youth through integrated, sustainable youth initiatives.

Keeping in view the efficacy of the programme, the present government continued with the initiative under six different thematic areas. Talent hunt youth sports league, a highly ambitious programme, with a budget of Rs1937 million in collaboration with Higher Education Commission (HEC) is also part of the initiative.

The programme includes 12 games: badminton, boxing, cricket, football, handball, hockey, judo, squash, table tennis and volleyball for men and women, and weightlifting and wrestling exclusively for men.

The overall leadership of the programme rests on the able shoulders of PML-N MNA Shaza Fatima Khawaja, whereas the Project Director of Talent Hunt Youth is DG Sports HEC Javeed Ali Memon who has his degree in Computer Sciences.

Focused on establishing new sports infrastructure and facilities with a capital cost of Rs867.934 million in different universities across the country and holding university games of designated sports at a cost of over Rs63 million, the 36-month project aims at winning at least two medals in world championships, and 25 medals in the Asian Games by year 2025.

Here I must mention that the technical document of this vital initiative in the specialised area of sport was reviewed by seven eminent scholars. Out of the seven scholars, Dr Tariq Gujjar holds a PhD in Sports Sciences from Germany, whereas the rest of eminent scholars mentioned in the document have their PhDs in Mechatronics, Mechanical Engineering, Artificial Intelligence, Orthopedics and Signal Processing.

Universities are the powerhouse of sports that serve as the backbone of any sporting nation. Unfortunately, there has always been a lack of seriousness in addressing this extremely important and specialised area and HEC treated it in an ad hoc manner.

The level of seriousness and professionalism in HEC towards sports can be well assessed from the fact that the important position of Director Sports was never advertised and officers serving in sidelined departments like services and stats or individuals in charge of guest houses and mechanical transport were appointed at the important position of Director General Sports HEC.

Amongst the high-sounding objectives of Kamyab Jawan Sports Talent hunt, it has been stated that this particular initiative will help in developing “sustainable sports eco-system” in Pakistan and nurture young players “systematically,” through scientific training methods.

Seeing a sharp decline in the standard of all sports, except white-ball cricket, and continuous criticism faced by various sports bodies, the government decided to provide impetus to dead sports and achieve immediate success at international level by injecting sizeable amount, carrying out a talent hunt programme for youth between age 15 and 25 to provide equal opportunities of quality sports to both men and women in the country.

The players will then be sent to various sports academies or high-performance centres — a concept acquired from Lahore Qalandars — where they will be developed into champion athletes with the support of respective federations, whose performance and capacity are already questionable.

Our focus turns for a while towards sports other than cricket when respective federations and sports bodies come under criticism after poor performance in Asian Games or Olympics.

The thoughts of reviving and promoting sports usually wither away due to lack of understanding of the subject, lack of capacity & transparency, lack of financial support and inability to formulate a comprehensive national sports policy in accordance with the aspirations of youth and myths like availability of abundant sports talent and unavailability of sports infrastructure in the country.

In the valued document, HEC has conceitedly projected the performance of university athletes for the year 2012 and 2013-14, claiming that HEC won 165 medals and 149 medals in national championships, respectively. No doubt, it’s a remarkable achievement by our university athletes in the absence of tough competition from organisations like the Army, who were busy in war on terror and were unable to field the full-strength squad in the National Games.

One should also keep in mind that Pakistan failed to win a single medal at the London Olympics and the Rio Olympics. The bulk of the medals at Olympics are won by college or university students, who are brought into the system through proper talent hunting carried out by paid scouts during competitions organised by National College Athletics Association (NCAA) or International Schools Athletic Association (ISAA).

Before I highlight the pathways adopted and best practices followed internationally to achieve high standards of sports in education institutions, and provide any justifications for re-nationalisation of this huge amount granted graciously by the government to HEC for promotion of sports at grassroots, I must highlight the role of an extremely important yet under-utilised institution of HEC called National Academy of Higher Education (NAHE).

NAHE was established in the H-9 sector of Islamabad in 2019. NAHE has an elaborate administrative setup and hostel facilities for students and staff. It has a digital library, research centre for innovations and capacity building initiatives. NAHE is also supposed to have regional centres in all provinces. The groundwork of establishing a regional centre in Punjab has already been completed.

The purpose of this institution is to collaboratively develop, examine, preserve and share knowledge in its broadest sense, prepare competent and caring educators, conduct research and offer multifaceted courses, workshops, certifications and degrees. NAHE is also supposed to establish centres of excellence and help in capacity building of faculty and management of HEIs and also build partnerships with international HEIs.

I have failed to understand the requirement of exclusive sports centre, lecture and residential halls and administrative offices at the cost of Rs55.13 million in the presence of already existing in-house facility like NAHE, which has elaborated yet under-utilised administrative and residential facilities, which can be easily turned into a centre of excellence for university sports.

The additional budget of Rs661.608 million allocated for establishment of additional resource centres for Kamyab Jawan sports initiative by HEC has no justification.

Besides dirty sports politics, the greatest challenges faced by our sports system is absence of organised sports in educational institutions, abundance of bogus sports clubs, lack of transparency and refusal to acknowledge the modern sports management practices by the incompetent sports bodies, and inability and lack of capacity of the provincial sports departments to exercise control over the apex sports bodies to bring any visible improvement in the system.

It is so unfortunate that our sports system is controlled by quacks, who are living in the delusion of “abundant sports talent” in the country. I strongly believe in the efficacy of the system. Any shortcut approach will only be a waste of economic and human resources.

The sports talent may be God gifted to some extent, but research and best practices around the world proves that 90 percent of talent is produced through a well-defined process. According to best international practices, the right age of talent identification is 18 years, provided the child’s motor skills have been developed at age six to 12 years, and the child has been taught correct fundamentals of game by trained instructors during investment ages of 13 to 15 years.

Finally, the performance stage is set at age 18 and plus, where skills are perfected and level of competitions are enhanced to achieve professional sports excellence. By age 21 to 23 the athlete should be performing at competitive level. However, we are still looking to find talent till the age of 25 years, and then develop them into some sort of international competitors. It’s quite obvious that such a flawed approach is never going to be productive.

If the objective is only to win a couple of medals in Asian Games & Olympics, then this can be easily achieved by spending one third of the amount allocated for ambitious Kamyab Jawan sports initiative, by just focusing on a couple of individual combat sports and sending the genuine athletes abroad for training in world renowned sports centres.

Unfortunately, there is a dearth of sport management experts who have the capacity to organise, plan, direct, control, finance, analyse and lead the sports organisations in the country. Just like any other professional discipline, sportspersons need well- defined pathways from early school days up to elite level. Only a robust national sports policy and adequate but justified resources managed by concerned experts can bail us out of the mess we are in.

Picking one odd aspect of sports development from its midsection with a faint hope to find young talent, without organised sports at grassroots like schools is shooting randomly in the dark and hoping a bulls’ eye result.

Almost similar amount of finances was drained in the past in the Narowal Sports University project, without any tangible result. The country has already lost its lustre in hockey and squash, and if we yet fail to mend our ways and continue with experiments, the day is not far when odd athletes popping up on their own shall also disappear from the sports scene.

The challenges of sports development