Sports in focus

Editorial Board
Friday, May 24, 2024

After spending years in the back seat, Pakistan sports has finally found its way back on the priority list of the people sitting in the corridors of power. At least that is the impression one gets following a series of recent developments. Pakistan hockey team's silver medal finish at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in the Malaysian city of Ipoh has ignited a so-called campaign for the revival of sports in Pakistan. At the forefront of this campaign is Federal Minister for Planning and Inter-Provincial Coordination Ahsan Iqbal. A seasoned politician who is counted among the stalwarts of the PML-N, Iqbal in his capacity as the IPC Minister, has declared 2025 as the year of sports revival in Pakistan. He pledged to make Pakistan great in the world of sports once again at a National Conference on Revival of Sports held in Islamabad last year. During his speech at the conference, Iqbal said all the right words and promised that a series of steps would be taken to revive the glory years of Pakistan sports. His promises seem to have been backed by actions -- with the hockey team players, who have long suffered due to government apathy, receiving generous rewards and job guarantees. At the conference, Iqbal announced a series of initiatives to promote sports, including full-fledged preparations for the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, promotion of institutional sports and the establishment of an endowment fund for elite athletes.

All of this looks good on paper. However, unfortunately this is not the first time such plans have been announced. Over the years, such promises from top government figures have turned out to be little more than lip service. One hopes that, unlike his predecessors, Iqbal means business. But he should know that reviving Pakistan sports would take years of concerted efforts and billions of rupees in funds. It will take a lot of planning and patience to put Pakistan back on the world sports map even in a sport like hockey and squash in which our country has won more international laurels than any other nation. During the last few decades, our sports has experienced a major slump and overcoming it will take a Herculean effort. At the moment, there is little to cheer about in the world of Pakistan sports. Our standards have gone down, our infrastructure is crumbling and our talent pool is shrinking. Meanwhile, several of our sports federations are experiencing power struggles with parallel bodies jostling for control. This is a grim yet true picture of our sports. And then there is a perpetual dearth of funds, something that is very difficult to overcome in the current economic scenario.

With such a backdrop, it was high time someone came forward and took such an initiative. Now Iqbal and his team must follow through with the promise and start taking long-term measures to revive sports. Such measures should start with a thorough post-mortem of three decades of failure. It should include rooting out vested elements from various sports federations. There should be steps to find talent and then groom it. The list goes on. One hopes that our authorities will not, for a change, take half-baked measures and instead make and implement a comprehensive plan for the revival of Pakistan sports.