In the past cricket faced sponsorship problems and it was because of government support that it made progress. And now the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) boasts of its capability of getting huge sponsorship for any event. It has a substantial amount in its kitty and so is quite smoothly functioning without any financial backing from the state.
But very few associated with the modern PCB may know how the Board evolved into a powerful corporate body.
A retired police officer, who worked on top positions in Punjab and Balochistan told me that in the past when cricket was not too popular, the federal government would force strong people in police and other state departments to manage sponsors for the PCB.
“We would also sell the tickets for the PCB, convince people and bring them to the stadia for witnessing matches. The people were least interested in cricket,” the official said.
He said that it was because of the state patronage that cricket developed. Hockey, in which Pakistan has secured all the global titles but has been severely struggling for the last few years, is the only discipline which gets substantial assistance from the government now.
No other sport gets any substantial state support and that is why Pakistan’s global presence in the other games is not distinctly felt.
The state should give attention to other sports as well. National sports federations are financially too weak to streamline their disciplines in a professional way. Sports are treated on an ad hoc basis in Pakistan. Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) funds its affiliated federations. Besides the annual grants, which are not substantial and also vary keeping in view the potential of a sports discipline, the PSB also provides special grants to federations for various tours of their squads. But still the government’s input is very little and it would not be possible to develop sports if things remained the same.
It does not mean that the federations are completely unable to generate revenues. Some federations are able to attract sponsors but they only meet their demands for holding an event or two. They need huge money in their kitty which could support their future plans without any hindrance. Being too much dependent on the government’s grants, the federations cannot prepare any ambitious plan and this is a real impediment in the way of sports progress.
What federations need is constant inflow of funds from the state until they become capable of pulling revenue when they have developed their disciplines.
Huge investment is required for developing a discipline. A few years ago Argentina was nowhere in hockey but now it is one of the leading nations in the sport and the Olympic champions because it invested a lot in the sport.
There was not much difference in the standards of Pakistan and Iran volleyball teams a few years ago. But now Iran is an Asian giant and among the leading volleyball nations in the world. A few years back its pro league was graded as the world’s best. That happened through huge inflow of finances to the sport ruling body. Besides the government, Iran Volleyball Federation’s (IVF) President Dr Mohammed Reza Davarzani played a key role in bringing huge sponsorship to his federation on constant basis.
This shows that for managing sponsorship you need an influential man at the top post of a federation who has strong relations with the government, establishment and the corporate sector.
Mostly retired people run sports in Pakistan. Most of them are unable to bring in money into the accounts of their federations. There are a few exceptions though.
Without proper sponsorship and serious contribution from the state, it is difficult for the federations to even field their athletes in all important international events. Federations try to plan for Olympics, but issue of resources often forces them to abandon their work.
Lack of trust is also a problem. Sponsors are not sure whether the amount they give to a federation or an association will be properly utilised. Several partnerships between some sports governing bodies and sponsors in the past have been seen broken because of lack of trust.
Besides contributing to events organisation and athletes’ training, the corporate sector should own and sponsor leading athletes in different disciplines in the country.
In India, top boxers, footballers and players of some other disciplines are fully sponsored by different companies which helps them focus on their game.
If it is not possible for the federal government to develop every discipline, it should take under its patronage only those disciplines in which Pakistan can turn out to be world beaters. By doing so Pakistan would be able to have a substantial presence at the Olympics in at least few disciplines in future.
The state also will need to establish a strong accountability system in order to ensure proper utilisation of funds. We have seen in the past that some federations misused state funding but because of lack of any proper accountability system they remained unhurt.