We need a concrete and dedicated campaign to lift sports in Pakistan out of its current abysmal state
We live in a country which is known around the world for both good and bad reasons. And, when it comes to Pakistan’s positive image, the sporting brilliance which is deeply embedded in its cultural roots never ceases to amaze others. Our sportsmen have been the trailblazers, who have given different sports their unique identities and contributed to their success at the global stage.
Despite inadequate resources and facilities provided to our sportsmen, our glorious history vindicates the mark we have left in the world of sports, particularly in hockey, cricket and squash.
Pakistan has been deprived of international events since the terrorist attack on Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009 in Lahore. Though Zimbabwe toured Pakistan amid tight security in 2015 and other countries have also sent their players for the tournaments of squash, snooker, volleyball, netball, etc, these were in no way a profound indication for the international hiatus coming to an end.
The national cricket and hockey teams have suffered ignominious defeats one after another in the recent past and there has been no respite in their downfall.
Pakistan ruled squash for more than two decades, but now the emerging talent seems far away from matching the prowess of their international counterparts.
Lack of international events has robbed us of giving a proper chance to the youngsters who shine in domestic contests. The bigger problem is posed when those talented prospects face their real test of performing against tougher opponents, away from home, and are eventually dropped after dismal displays. But, they go back, show promise in domestic tournaments and are picked again. Yet, they fail to prosper and the cycle continues.
The actual predicament lies in the shabby structure of our domestic sports and the physical fitness of our players, which don’t meet international standards. In cricket, the pitches are mostly dead and the contests lack vigour and quality. The standard of umpiring is below par and the paucity of media coverage leaves no room for excitement among the young lads. Selectors show little interest in witnessing the matches and players are even selected and axed on whims and fancies.
Pakistan were once considered the ‘powerhouse’ of world hockey. They were completely unstoppable and were annexing almost every major title by drubbing their opponents. Despite the intense rivalry against India in cricket, Pakistan were smoothly dominating hockey, not only in Asia, but also at the world level. Australia, Netherlands, Germany, Argentina -- who have always been regarded as the giants in hockey -- had no answer to Pakistan’s superiority. Pakistan were lavished with praise for entertaining the world with their spellbinding game.
In squash, the two Khans -- Jahangir and Jansher -- reigned supreme and earned Pakistan numerous laurels.
Where did we actually go wrong in the pursuit of retaining our prestige?
If we dig in deep, the problems in the domestic structure were already prevalent then. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were not privileged; neither was Sohail Abbas, nor Jehangir Khan. These players were naturally gifted. Budding and poor sportsmen even had to toil much harder than now to make their ends meet. The foreign league ventures were quite a few, in which players featured to hone their skills. Moreover, the splash of money on the now-popular leagues like IPL and BBL was non-existent.
Dissecting the carcass of the crestfallen state of sports, it can be agreed upon that Pakistan didn’t catch up and adapt to the modern-day innovations in sports. Now you don’t necessarily need a coach who once rendered glorious services as a player. A coach/manager has to be an astute strategist who must know how to reap the benefits of technology and advanced methods of training in a bid to overcome the shortcomings of his players. He should be aware of the ebb and flow of each member of his team. It’s about transforming your players into a formidable unit -- just like many waves combine together to turn into a giant wave -- which can gobble up and hammer anything that comes in its way.
This fact further implies that in order to ameliorate the system, decisions shouldn’t be made inside closed rooms. Adhocism and nepotism have killed the sole purpose of merit. Political interference in the matters of sports has horrendously hampered our progress on the world stage. The head of the government is in no way qualified to appoint a chairman or president, who brings his own people by tearing to shreds meritocracy. Transparent elections should be held and every candidate should be given a fair chance to put forth his ideas of taking a particular sport to the winning ways.
While the rest of the world is exploring new, scientific ways of enhancing the quality of their players, Pakistan is still roaming around the old, dilapidated road which has no way forward. Changing the management and bringing in new faces at the helm will not change much, until the approach is robust and productive. You can spend as much money as you want on popular leagues by inviting foreign players, but you cannot harvest anything out of it unless the structure at grassroots level is revamped.
The lacklustre domestic tournaments are the real exhibit of our non-seriousness towards improving the standard of our games. Players’ interest can only be amplified if they are offered substantial, performance-based incentives.
The population of Australia is approximately 24 million, compared to Pakistan, which has surpassed 200 million. But, they have eclipsed many countries in the field of sports. And, it’s not rocket science to understand their success mantra. They have enough grounds, academies and training centres, where they have hired former sportsmen, quality strategists, trainers and supporting staff.
Considering the number of teams we are competing in cricket and hockey, this is clearly an indication as to where we stand right now. If more nations were playing cricket and hockey like football, we would have been languishing at a much lower ranking. Pakistan are currently ranked 190th in football out of 209 teams in the world, which calls to attention our immediate response.
There is no dearth of talent in Pakistan. It’s about exploring it, polishing it and making it to constructive use.
Matters need to be tackled with utmost earnestness and perspicacity if we want our positive image to be maintained in the eyes of the world. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. The need is to use it as a guide to find the direction to glory; otherwise the way things are heading, the future of sports in Pakistan looks bleak.