It is unfortunate that sports have never been the priority in Pakistan. And people in power like the Prime Minister and the President don’t know much about sports. In Iran the president of the state himself picks up the phone and speaks to a sponsor for his national volleyball team and one can see that Iran has strong standing in the world in volleyball.
If sports had no importance in a nation’s development Turkmenistan would not have spent billions of dollars on establishing gigantic indoor infrastructure in Ashgabat.
The Queensland government has preserved the performances of its athletes in major events at Brisbane Museum. But we don’t respect sports.
A few days ago Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi hosted Pakistan’s contingent that took part in the 21st Commonwealth Games in Australia last month. The reception held at the Prime Minister Secretariat was attended by around 200 players and officials, including the top office-bearers of Pakistan Olympic Association (POA).
In the big gathering, the Commonwealth Games medalists were handed over cash prizes. The Prime Minister also announced Rs500 million to prepare for hosting the South Asian Games which Pakistan is supposed to hold in Islamabad in future.
The federal minister for inter-provincial coordination (IPC) Riaz Hussain Pirzada briefed the PM about Pakistan’s performance at the Commonwealth Games and spoke about what his ministry has done for sports development during the last five years. It would have been much better had the POA chief Lt Gen (retd) Arif Hasan had been given the opportunity to say a few words about the country’s sports situation.
The Prime Minister said on the occasion that sports needed huge budget and the government alone could not meet the demands. He said efforts should be made to involve corporate sector in the area. But it needs a lot of struggle and commitment on the part of the federations to get sponsorship. Our federations are headed by either retired people or those who are not fit for running the federations. Most of the federations’ chiefs don’t have the passion to promote their respective sports. They just keep waiting for the government to give them money. Once a senior official of a federation told me that Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) should not give funds to the federations because then only the competent people would remain in their positions. The incompetent ones will see no benefit in sticking to their positions.
When you ask federations about sponsorship they would say that there are no sponsors. But that is not the case. We recently saw that Strawberry Sports Management organised a ten-team professional kabaddi league in Lahore quite successfully. It engaged leading business tycoons and ten foreign players featured in it. It showed that if you are committed you can gain support from the corporate sector. The market existed but Pakistan Kabaddi Federation (PKF) never explored it.
The federation chiefs should know how to present their product to the sponsors to get their support.
Strawberry Sports Management is keen to start professional leagues in wrestling and volleyball as well. Both sports have potential to attract sponsors but their federations are looking towards Strawberry Sports Management to come and organise leagues for them. Young people head some football clubs in Karachi and other parts of the country and they do manage to attract corporate sector while federations fail. It shows that it would be much better if educated young people were brought in to lead the federations. Otherwise our sports will as usual keep depending on the meagre state funding. A young secretary of Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF) engaged big sponsors in Afghanistan football which is now touching new heights. Let’s give chance to the educated youth who are not only skilled in modern communication systems but also well aware of sports demands. Our current sports officials don’t even know how to publicise their events.
Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) must also stop looking towards huge funding it receives from FIFA and Asian Football Confederation (AFC). It should make an effort to generate funds through corporate sector. The PFF will have to professionalise its league and for that it will have to engage big companies.
The federations of hockey and other sports also should learn how to generate revenues as it is the need of the hour. I always tell the top officials of some federations to manage some sponsors for their leading players. They promise that they will do but so far we haven’t seen that any particular player has been sponsored by any company.
Besides, the provincial governments should play their role in sports promotion. After the devolution of sports to provinces, it is their responsibility to invest in the sector so that top athletes could be prepared for national duty.
A senior official of Indian boxing team, which featured in Commonwealth Games in Australia last month, told me that Haryana state had announced that if any boxer of the state won gold in Gold Coast he or she would be given Rs20 million. This is how a province can contribute to sports development. The federating units in Pakistan will have to take similar steps to encourage athletes.
The POA also will have to generate its own funds so that it could assist federations and players in time of need.