Although our sports officials continue to make big promises, the Pakistan sports scene remains gloomy. From cricket to hockey and from squash to football, there are little reasons for the country’s sports fans to celebrate.
One of the primary reasons why there seems little light at the end of the tunnel for Pakistan sports is the fact that the country remains a no-go zone for international teams. Pakistan was never really an exciting destination for top sports persons but since March 2009 they have been avoided it like the plague. And they can’t be blamed for it.
In March 2009, Sri Lanka — the last high-profile sports team to visit Pakistan — was ambushed in broad daylight in Lahore. It was an attack that stunned the sports world and sealed Pakistan’s status as an international sporting pariah.
During the last five years, our sports officials have made big claims that they would somehow bring international sporting action back to Pakistan. But it’s mostly been lip service.
The truth is that little has been done to pave the path for the country to once again become a sporting hub. It’s true that a herculean effort is needed to achieve this seemingly impossible target. After all, the country is hit by violence almost on a daily basis with deadly threats coming from various groups like the Taliban or separatists in Balochistan. In such circumstances, it is highly unlikely that international sports teams will agree to come and play here.
But what our sports officials can do is devise a long-term strategy to make sure that as soon as things get a little better, foreign teams will start visiting Pakistan. Unfortunately, the concerned authorities have achieved little or no progress in this regard. Whether it’s the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) of the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB), nobody has cared to work on some concrete plan that would someday serve as a catalyst towards the resumption of international action in this sports-mad country.
On a small scale, officials of the Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF) have tried. They did host a regional championship in Islamabad despite all kinds of security threats and are now planning to stage an international ranking tournament in the federal capital in October this year. The PSF officials certainly deserve praise as they have managed to succeed where many other have failed. They have even convinced the Professional Squash Association (PSA) to allow foreign players to take part in international tournaments taking place in Pakistan.
What’s happening in squash should also happen across other sports in the country, especially cricket and hockey. These two have been the biggest sports in the country and need to devise long-term plans for the return of international sport in Pakistan.
At the moment, PCB is creating a lot of noise about launching its professional Twenty20 league in the UAE. What purpose would such a league serve other than consolidating Pakistan’s status as a sporting pariah. The Board believes that it can make a lot of money from such a league but ask any financial expert and he would tell you that its wishful thinking. The Twenty20 scene is saturated with other ambitious leagues the Sri Lankan Premier league and another similar contest in Bangladesh finding it tough to even pay the participating players. The Indian Premier League (IPL) takes and will continue to take almost the full T20 pie. Having a second or third grade Twenty20 league in current market conditions can only benefit Pakistan cricket if it is somehow staged in Pakistan. Otherwise, it would be much better to wait and see.