Tight-fisted govt ruining sports

March 8, 2020

Because of no patronage from the state and the corporate sector, even top-level athletes are thinking of quitting sports

Following extensive interaction with a few top athletes of Pakistan my heart is bleeding. After listening to their painful stories I am really sad. They initiated their careers with the aim to achieve international glories but it is sad that because of no patronage from the state and corporate sector they are on the verge of taking pre-mature retirement from their respective sports.

They want to play for the country but the state does not recognise their achievements and has left them unattended although they have the capability to beat even the world’s best.

“I am so depressed. We are not being looked after by the state,” a seasoned player told ‘The News on Sunday’ (TNS). “If you see the rest of the world, states play key role in athletes’ development.

“Look at England where corporate sector also looks after top athletes but still the sole financier of its athletes is England government itself,” the athlete pointed out.

“If an athlete who aims to hoist national flag has to pay to the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) for using state infrastructure then how will a player get motivation,” the athlete said.

Nowadays three national boxers are in Jordan to flex their muscles in the Asia and Oceania Qualifying round for 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Mohammad Asif and Mehmood-ul-Hasan have already lost their bouts, while Gul Zeb was scheduled to play his first bout on Friday (March 6). It was expected that the result would be frustrating because the boxers did not get training as per international standard. And this was because of no state support. The state did not even offer national fighters training facilities. I have written several times that top athletes could be made only through state support. I firmly believe that federations cannot generate enough money in the existing corporate culture.

India trained for Asian boxing qualifiers in Italy for six months. I remember even Bangladesh sent its boxers to Thailand for two-month training ahead of the 13th South Asian Games held in Kathmandu and Pokhara last year. And we held only five days camp for those Games.

The state has money for unimportant sports festivals which it conducts regularly through Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) but it does not have money to spend on events that matter like Olympic qualifiers.

For the last couple of years Pakistan government has not been taking interest in the development of the Olympic sports. The PSL fever has gripped the entire country and even media have no time to talk about or write something on other sports with a critical eye. The Prime Minister Imran Khan also only talks about PSL and its role in revival of international cricket in Pakistan. He is least interested in other sports. The PSB is being run on ad-hoc basis without a permanent Director General for the last couple of years. The IPC minister Dr Fehmida Mirza has proved to be the most inefficient minister as far as sports development is concerned. Maybe she is adroitly handling the other responsibilities of her ministry. I have seen her telling reporters several times that the federations should generate their own resources. If federations have to generate their own resources then the PSB should be abolished.

Betterment will occur only if federations and PSB work together. If the IPC ministry is not ready to fund federations or even allow them to use state infrastructure free of cost then IPC’s sports wing should be closed.

Former PSB Director General Brigadier Arif Siddiqui rightly said that sports was buried the day it was devolved to provinces. A few months ago president of Pakistan Table Tennis Federation (PTTF) SM Sibtain told me in an interview that the PSB should be abolished and the entire sports should be run by the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA).

The current government has not even finalised the restructuring of the PSB under the recommendations submitted by the Prime Minster Task Force for Sports chairman Ehsan Mani.

A few days ago I asked Mani about the PSB restructuring process but he refused to comment. He only said that he had submitted his recommendations.

The IPC ministry normally says that after devolution provinces have to play the leading role in sports development. No doubt from there we will get talent but who will handle national sports, who will hold camps, send and finance the country’s top athletes for their international commitments?

It’s a big issue and we have no answers to these questions. Because of lack of state patronage such disciplines as boxing, wrestling, athletics, weightlifting and martial arts are suffering. If the system was not corrected the country’s top athletes would leave their respective sports. And because of insecure future new talent would not come as parents would then be least interested in allowing their children to “waste” their crucial time in playing sports.

National level policy matters a lot. In India too states are contributing but central government is even contributing more to sports development. We should learn from India.

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Tight-fisted govt ruining sports