The need to depoliticise sports

May 27, 2018

The government had committed with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) a few years ago that only those federations would be recognised which are affiliated with their International Federations (IFs)

The need to depoliticise sports

Pakistan’s sports has been facing huge problems of different kinds. At the end of last month a six-member Pakistan table tennis team was not allowed to board a flight at the Allama Iqbal International Airport Lahore. The team was flying to Sweden to feature in the World Championships. It was a huge loss for the players and damaged Pakistan’s image badly.

This happened because of politics. The internationally-recognised Pakistan Table Tennis Federation (PTTF) led by SM Sibtain was sending this squad to Sweden. But the body is not recognised by the PSB. A senior official of the Board told me the other day that it recognises Khwaja Hassan Wadood-led body. But the official at the same time denied that there was any role of the PSB in stopping the team from flying out of Lahore for Sweden. But it cannot have been done without the involvement of the government machinery.

Pakistan government had committed with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) a few years ago that only those federations would be recognised which are affiliated with their International Federations (IFs). It means that the government violated the pact. It is cruel treatment with the players who work hard to prepare for an international event.

The Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) strongly reacted and wrote a letter to the outgoing Director General of the PSB Amir Ali Ahmed. Amir, a renowned DMG officer, ordered an inquiry but the result of that is yet not known. Amir, who had ordered inquiries in some other matters of the PSB, was released from the post a few days ago. He was replaced by senior joint secretary of the Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) Arif Ibrahim.

Amir, whose father was considered the right hand of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had impressed the federations with his approach. But his stay as acting DG PSB was short-lived. He had been brought in early March 2018 when Dr Akhtar Nawaz Ganjera retired. Amir and former acting DG PSB Khayyal Zad Gul were both right choices for the job.

Khayyal, who had been given additional charge after former DG Ganjera was suspended on corruption charges, was working in a different manner. He wanted to correct the system but as he had been given additional charge he was released after Ganjera staged a comeback in summer last year after being cleared of corruption charges. During his short period as DG PSB many conspiracies were made to sabotage his efforts to reform the system. I know that he was also pressurised several times through the employees union.

The current government completes its tenure on May 31. It seems that a permanent DG will only be appointed by the new government, not the caretaker government.

So till then the acting Director General(s) will run the Board. It’s an extremely difficult period for Pakistan’s sports. Pakistan is to feature in the 18th Asian Games in Indonesia later this summer but so far proper camps have not been started. And those which had been started were halted by the PSB due to "financial issues".

A player who won a medal at the 21st Commonwealth Games in Australia last month told me on Wednesday that sports could not be developed in a country which cannot run camps for such an important event.

"We had caught rhythm, but this break has broken the momentum," the player told me.

A senior PSB official told me in the meantime that the Board had reconsidered its decision of halting the camps, but the players were still waiting for the resumption of their camps when this article was being written.

These things will minimise Pakistan’s medal chances in the Asian Games. June 10 is the final date of sending entries by name but I wonder how federations would be able to select their top players if their camps have not been held yet. The PSB should have held all camps soon after the Commonwealth Games. But it needed a plan. The federal minister for IPC Riaz Pirzada is also not serious as he is enjoying his last days. The new DG Arif Ibrahim, who is a Grade-21 officer, will have to take bold decisions. He will not only have to hold all camps immediately but will also have to back the federations in their bids to arrange foreign tours for preparing their brigades for the continental assignment.

Arif should also resolve the table tennis issue so that the Board could support table tennis players during the Asian Games.

The POA also should end its differences with the Pakistan Judo Federation (PJF) so that national judokas’ participation in the Asian Games could be ensured.

It should also restore its working relationship with the Pakistan Cycling Federation (PCF).

These problems can be resolved through table talk and not through email correspondence.

The POA also should make efforts to resolve the parallel bodies issue in Sindh and Balochistan. These issues have damaged a few disciplines.

The POA should in particular resolve these issues in Balochistan. Without doing so it would be futile to go for holding National Games in Quetta.

Sports have been so much politicised that a senior official of a strong national federation lamented the other day that only the federations with strong political backing are able to get substantial grants from the government.

He added that those with no such support are suffering despite impressive performances of their athletes in international circuit.

The need to depoliticise sports