Fading Years of Glory; The Decline of Sports in Pakistan

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Muhammad Asghar Kaira

Pakistan is a nation which has a rich history when it comes to sports, it has had its fair share of glory in different sports, from bagging in the world championships to being Olympic gold medalist and unlocking achievements as they progressed.

However rather than cementing its position, Pakistan has witnessed a persistent decline in the field of sports, it seems all the glories and achievements are a memory of the past and the recovery from this situation is not in sight anytime soon. The question arises why sports has declined in Pakistan?

After taking a wholistic view a number of reasons can be drawn for this decline. One of the most important reason is the lack of focus in the sports sector by the government; combined with the incompetent management of the federations and boards of the related sports. The result of this can be seen in the national sports of the country, field hockey. There was a time when the national men’s hockey team without a doubt ruled the world and still is the most successful national field hockey team in the world cup, collectively it won four world cups, eight gold medals in the Asian Games, three time winning the champions trophy, three Olympic gold medals and total of twenty-nine official international titles. Having such a glorious past and considering the current position, one can easily say that the mighty have fallen, a world champion team with such great history not even qualifying for the Olympics anymore. The last major achievement the national hockey team had was back in 2010 by winning the Asian Games.

This fall is owed to the government not providing enough funds for the development of the game in the recent years although efforts were made by the governments of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto by inviting corporate sector to invest in the game and planned to lay down AstrotTurfs, however it was not sufficient enough and presently in a few AstroTurfs are available, in addition to it these efforts were made a good twenty three years go. Along with this the politics and corruption in the Pakistan Hockey Federation have further helped in the deterioration of the facilities provided to the players, plus the national players having low pays, the national team legends and current players having no recognition has led to the point that the national sports is not promoted anymore and the youth has lost interest in this game.

Sadly the same are the reasons for the decline of squash in Pakistan despite dominating the game for good five decades, winning every possible official tittle and arguably producing the best player of the game Jahangir Khan; sadly today hardly anyone knows the players or even the sports of squash.

Moving on to the situation of athletics. Athletics is often termed as the mother of all sports, and nations such as the USA, China and Great Britain are renowned for exceling in this particular area of sports. Countries of the world take athletics seriously, the governments spend a hefty amount on development of players, facilities and winning the gold medal at the Olympics is a matter of prestige. Sadly the conditions are dire in Pakistan. This position can be best explained from the contrast of budget and aim set, Pakistan in the budget of 2019-20 only allocated PKR102.261m for the development of the game with no new projects and PKR339.958m designated in the next fiscal year. Whereas at the same time Australia in 2019 had allocated the fund of $300m over the next two years to physical activity and sports, the mindset behind injecting such huge amount is to facilitate young athletes with aim to win gold medals in Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028. No such planning can be seen on the part of Pakistan and lack of focus can be seen from the fact that Pakistan has not won any medals since the Atlanta Olympics 1996, further to add the number of athletes have shrunken as the years have passed. The Pakistan Olympic Association had been blamed for mismanagement of funds, politics and adding to this misery is the fact that the association has the same president since 2004 with zero success, which clearly indicates seriousness of the association to improve the conditions.

Probably the only sports which is religiously followed in Pakistan is cricket, and our emotions flow with the game performances. However to critic we have not achieved the heights we should have, even though we have won the world cup in the 1992 and recent successes with the 2009 T-20 worldcup and 2017 Champions Trophy, but the national teams performances have been inconsistent. On the other hand the sport has not seen the decline due to the glamour and investment that has been added to the game in the fan-favourite format of T-20 through different leagues such as PSL, IPL and the Big Bash.

Although a lot has been lost but it is still not late, if steps are to be taken with an aim to achieve success in the future in different sports. This can be done through planned focus and an increase in the funds for the development physical sports and forming recreational sports venues where the youth can come and carry out these activities. The youth makes about 64% of Pakistan’s population which indicates ample talent is available, thus a mechanism is required for this to be recovered and furnished. Here the digital media can play its role, The Pakistani digital media mostly only covers cricket and does not cover other sports such as boxing, snooker and athletics. Through an increased coverage and recognition of current players and our national legends, the youth can be attracted to the game and find inspirations. Hence decline can only be curtailed through a collective effort by all stakeholders and clear planning from the government.