A step in the right direction?

August 28, 2022

The PM's decision to lift the controversial ban on departmental sports has been widely welcomed by the country's sports community

A step in the right direction?

And finally the prime minister of Pakistan Mian Shehbaz Sharif announced lifting the ban on departmental sports which had been imposed by the previous PTI regime. The PTI government in September last year had issued directives to a number of departments to stop funding their sports teams and divert it to support regional teams.

Former premier Imran Khan was right in his approach if we look at the sports culture in more than half of the world. But it was not a suitable step for a country like Pakistan where sports never have been a priority. We cannot act as England or Australia do. Both are economically very strong. The corporate culture in these countries is capable of backing athletes and the sports culture in their counties and states is quite healthy.

In cricket, yes, regional culture can bring a massive change and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has already made huge progress in that direction. It is busy paving the way for both mainstream athletes and the emerging ones to lead their lives with ease through their cricketing credentials without any job. But in the rest of the sports we need departments which ensure that athletes get jobs and support their families.

It is yet to be known what type of notification will emerge following Shehbaz Sharif's formal announcement of lifting the ban from departmental sports at a function at the PM House in Islamabad on Thursday at which he awarded cash prizes to the medal winners of the Commonwealth Games and the Islamic Games held recently in Birmingham and Turkey, respectively.

A large number of athletes had lost their jobs and those who were regular had been sent on duty. And it is yet to be seen what will happen next.

The big issue is that state departments will be able to restore their teams following the announcement of the premier but how various companies like K-Electric will react or some private banks which have already abolished their sports teams. Some had even disbanded their sports teams before the decision of the PTI government when they felt that the former Prime Minister Imran Khan was not in favour of departmental sports and was going to abolish it.

So a lot is yet to happen. The other issue is that some departments have already fired their players. Are they going to restore their jobs? Or will they start recruiting young players?

So issues will come with the reversal of the PTI government decision. If there are no jobs youngsters will not take up sports and parents will not back their children if they decide to take up sports.

A step in the right direction?

Yes, in some disciplines if we are able to bring in professional leagues and make them regular features then athletes will not need any jobs but we cannot sustain these things.

We held the Super Kabaddi League (SKL) just once and it is nowhere to be seen now. It will not work. And if we have such an inconsistent approach then we will need departmental sports.

For years departments have been looking after the athletes and their families. And it is because of their presence that we have been doing something in international sports. Look, the country's star javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem is serving WAPDA in Grade-18. Without its support how could he have come up to be where he is today?

Some people say that in the current environment when there are franchise-based leagues, departmental sports have lost their gloss and cannot be sustained. Yes, in cricket it's a fact. And up to a certain level in football, we can promote club culture but in football too we need the presence of departmental teams for a few more years so that we could correct our system and check how much we can do with the funding from FIFA and the AFC.

In some sports disciplines we will have to depend solely on departments and in some we will need to carry both departmental events as well as franchise-based or regional-based competitions. The top priority should be to keep the charm alive for the athletes in the mainstream sports and in terms of decent jobs. Athletes also should act responsibly. Some athletes misuse departmental jobs. They don't act to serve the nation in the international circuit. When they get jobs on the basis of sports, they feature in national events and that's it. They lack commitment. Departments will need to discourage this thing strictly in future.

Some athletes will not agree with me but I believe that there should be no regular jobs in departments. All departments should award contracts to the mainstream athletes for one year which could be extended provided the athletes keep themselves fit and perform well. Performance-based contract extension will leave a healthy impact on the country's overall sports standard.

Departments will need to bring certain reforms so that they could serve the athletes in the most appropriate way with less state funds consumption. They also will need to reform their recruitment system of the athletes.

There are some other issues which will be discussed in future but in a nutshell I will say that Shehbaz Sharif's decision to lift the ban on departmental sports is a welcome step and must have delighted the country's athletes who aim to do something for the nation in international circuit. Hope more good things will come in the near future.


A step in the right direction?