Last Friday, Pakistan’s brightest young golf star Ahmed Baig won the Bangladesh National Amateur golf title at the Kurmitola Golf Club in Dhaka. It was a big achievement but had it been the young golfer’s decision then he wouldn’t have even competed in the event.
That’s because Ahmed wants to turn professional after a highly successful 2018 in which he won the Faldo Asia Finals in Vietnam as a junior and the Qatar Open Amateur title in Doha as an amateur. He also won several national-level events during the year. He wanted to turn pro ahead of this month’s Rashid D. Habib Memorial National Professional Golf Championship held at the Karachi Golf Club. Fancying his chances of winning the title in the lucrative Rs7.2 million championship, Ahmed was more than willing to give up his spot on the Dhaka-bound national squad. It was only after the top officials of the Pakistan Golf Federation (PGF) convinced him to delay his plans that he changed his mind and agreed to play in the Bangladesh Amateur. He won the title by a whopping nine strokes.
Ask any amateur golfer in Pakistan and he will tell you that it’s his dream to win an international title abroad. Ali Hai, the former national champion won the Bangladesh title in Chittagong in 2010 and still counts the feat among his most cherished memories. But the thing is that players like Ali don’t play sport as a means to earn their bread and butter. But players like Ahmed Baig do. That’s why sooner rather than later Ahmed would turn to professional golf. That would certainly be a big loss for Pakistan golf as he won’t be able to represent them in international amateur events but that’s the way it is.
Today, sport is all about money. You can talk about patriotism or you can talk about your love for the game. You can talk such talk all day but you are never going to win the argument. In the end, the bottom line is that athletes, who give up everything for sport, are in it primarily for the money.
Things were different maybe 30, 40 years ago when our cricketers played for peanuts and didn’t complain about it or when our hockey players used to play their hearts out and didn’t even get paid for it, not even peanuts. Times have changed. In the developed world, times changed way back in the seventies when star athletes started to become millionaires. Today, some of them like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods are billionaires.
You can even look nearer. Sachin Tendulkar became the first South Asian sportsman to cross the $100 million mark. Then it was MS Dhoni and now Virat Kohli is getting there. Yes, these are obscene figures but as I said that’s the way it is. Whether you like it or not, money makes the sports world go round. And if Pakistan wants to compete with the rest of the world, it will have to begin investing much, much more in sports.
I know all this greed for money has changed sports. As kids we were taught about the importance of good sportsmanship. I still try to teach that to my kids. They play golf and for sure they love it when they win a trophy. But sadly, they are happier when the trophy comes with a prize. The bigger the prize, the happier they are. And they are still in their early teens. And they are primarily in golf because they love playing it. That’s why I can understand why Ahmed Baig is itching to turn pro. Last September, he was fielded as an amateur in the UMA-CNS Open Golf Championship, a US$300,000 event that marked Pakistan’s return on the Asian Tour after an 11-year gap. The winner of the event held at the Karachi Golf Club got a cheque of US$54,000. But had Ahmed won the title, he would have got nothing. Because he is an amateur.
That said, I would side with PGF in this debate and would like the talented youngster to delay his plans to become a professional at least for the next two to three years. After all, he hasn’t even won the National Amateur Championship of Pakistan. There is plenty at stake on the world amateur circuit. He could represent Pakistan internationally as an amateur and can turn professional in a few years time. But the PGF will have to make sure that Ahmed is duly rewarded. A sinecure job with proper benefits could be one way to reward him.
There are many such players who need support, both from the public and private sectors. That’s why we need a proper policy to lift our sports out of the current spiral of failure and disappointment. The world of sports is moving at a very fast pace. It is not going to wait for us. In order for us to catch up, we need to work out a comprehensive strategy and then implement it. Funds have been a major hurdle in the past but countries like Malaysia have overcome this hurdle by roping in long-term support from multi-nationals. We can do the same.