The former Pakistan skipper and legendry batsman Javed Miandad, the undisputed squash king Jahangir Khan and former hockey Olympian Islahuddin Siqqiui have opposed the decision of Prime Minister Imran Khan to abolish departmental cricket in Pakistan.
Javed stated that departmental sports are the major source for players and their families to earn living.
Islah demanded a substitute system before abolishing the present departmental sports in Pakistan.
The Prime Minister, who is patron-in-chief of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), has instructed PCB chairman Ehsan Mani to abolish the departmental system and restrict the first-class cricket to six teams only.
Imran, who led Pakistan to 1992 World Cup glory, wants to improve the quality of first class cricket in Pakistan which he believes can happen only when cricket is organised only on regional basis.
Many former cricketers, including Zaheer Abbas, Rashid Latif, Abdul Qadir and Moin Khan, are in favour of departmental sports structure.
Relatively better educated cricketers, including Ramiz Raja and Salman Butt, are in favour of Imran’s model.
Replacing the departmental cricket structure with six provincial teams is like picking a piece out of a large puzzle. The departments are feeding majority of sportsperson and their families in Pakistan.
The system was introduced in cricket by none other than Abdul Hafeez Kardar, an oxford graduate. Kardar represented Pakistan from 1952-58. A genius cricketer and astute bureaucrat, Kardar served Pakistan cricket board as its chairman and also served the provincial cabinet of Pakistan People’s Party as a minister.
The foundation of Pakistan cricket and other major sports in the country were laid by the British and supported by highly educated and passionate personalities like Kardar and Brigadier Rodham and Air Marshal Nur Khan. Not only Pakistan had the services of these towering and selfless personalities to run sports bodies, but the country was also fortunate to have abundance of sportsperson and sports activities in education institutions and community clubs.
Pakistan’s economy was thriving due to American aid and departments could afford to raise sports teams. One should remember that as per the tradition, the sportsmen in the past were sponsored by the Rajas and Maharajas in sub-continent.
After the independence this role was played by the government departments and large corporate entities.
This system continued in Pakistan for decades. While these departments were instrumental in producing many world class athletes for Pakistan and provided livelihood to players and their families, the system couldn’t sustain when the economy deteriorated.
The system thus gave way to retired sportspersons, who occupied the important places in these departments as administrators, managers, coaches and trainers, without acquiring the required qualifications. They just had the experience of playing when they were young.
In the absence of a dual career path for the sportsperson in our country, the departmental sports system was not less than a heaven, where they could continue to survive in different capacities after their retirement.
With the financial crunch, most of the departments started downsizing. This process also affected the recruitment of fresh sportsperson in the departments, but the oldies continued to exploit the system.
At the turn of new millennium, the departments had restricted fresh recruitments, while on the other hand the education system and clubs had virtually stopped producing the required products due to poor government policies.
Despite abundance of talent in all sports, Pakistan could not produce champions. Universities in Pakistan instead of offering studies in advance sports subjects and producing qualified human resources, kept teaching outdated physical education syllabus.
Cricket despite its highs and lows managed to survive because of a relatively better management structure, a strong board of governors and availability of sponsors.
The popularity of cricket among the masses has been due to its very unpredictable nature and requirement of relatively lower physical fitness as compared to other competitive sports played by the Europeans and the North Americans.
This situation, however, can’t last forever and if the present state of sports management continues in Pakistan, the day is not far when cricket will also meet the same fate.
The system being proposed by the Prime Minister is in fact the actual path to survival and sustainable growth of sports in Pakistan. The purpose of establishing PIA was to manage a profitable commercial airline and not to raise hockey and cricket teams.
The same is true of other government and corporate organisations, which instead of raising sports teams as permanent liabilities, should sponsor teams and tournaments at different levels in tehsils, districts, towns and villages and invest in building the sports infrastructure in the country as part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
We should realise that two wrongs don’t make one right. Pakistan sports need a paradigm shift, but at the moment we are not geared up for this shift.
The government should first focus on creating the qualified human resource to replace the existing lot. Instead of giving a kneejerk reaction and then reversing the decision, the government should proceed logically.
As a short-term measure, the government should encourage the departments to appoint qualified persons in their sports administration departments on a fixed term basis and evolve a formula for the survival of existing players in respective departments.
Only a comprehensive sports policy at the national level, major structural reforms in university sports, complete overhaul of physical education syllabus, scrutiny of all sports federations, creation of private public partnerships and initiation of sports education programmes in education institutions can put Pakistan sports on the right path.