NATIONAL SPORTING SCENARIO

Uplift of sports can bring about a true revolution and solution to many of our present day social evils

From KHALID BUTT, Lahore
Dec 19 - 25, 2005

The current picture on the national sporting scenario, with the sole exception of cricket, is of gloom and doom. For a country which at one time boasted of being world champions in many disciplines is currently without any of the titles or even in serious consideration for the top positions.

Pakistan, not long ago were the world champs in hockey, squash, cricket and even in snooker. In athletics, it was considered a force at the Asian level. Now all those achievements are a matter of past history. A look at the current scene as to where we stand now would be in order in various sports.

First the cricket: Pakistan after touching great heights in 1992 under the captaincy of Imran Khan had steadily gone downhill ever since. The closest they came was to reach the 1999 World Cup Final in London but only to surrender tamely to the Aussies without semblance of a worthy resistance. The subsequent events have been of great disappointment of being weeded out of last World Cup in the preliminary rounds, consistently losing even home series to Zimbabwe, England and India and being scared by the lowest placed Bangladesh at Multan. Pakistan at the start of current season were rated 7th in the ICC Test playing countries and 4th in ICC ODI rankings.

Their improved performance in India, as their return visit progressed and subsequently on the current visit of England team has been an uplifting factor. Pakistan under Inzamam were finally coming together as a strong and more well knit side than of recent past. It was a good sign to see the national team rid of its various faction to show their true potential. With the winning of Test rubber Pakistan has already jumped up to number 3 slot behind Australia and South Africa in ICC Test rating while in ICC ODI ranking they now move up to number 4 spot behind Australia, England and New Zealand. They have a crowded season ahead of then including the home series against Indians. But their focus would be naturally on the next World Cup in West Indies.

Pakistan has always been a formidable proposition at home and under local condition but their real test would naturally come while playing in alien conditions and on pitches with a bounce and seaming nature.

Cricket, as we all know, is a great leveller as we have seen with England learning after their great Ashes triumph and much hype to flounder even under ideal condition against Pakistan. This also serves as a warning to Pakistan to be not complacent in any way after their fine performance.

However, despite the good tidings in the cricket pertaining to the new-found resilience and form is growing sense of malaise which had been gripping the PCB and its corridor of powers. PCB under ad-hoc management is showing no sign of a status quo change as loaded with huge financial windfall the management is determined to continue their stranglehold. PCB has become virtually one-man show under a chairman, whose cricketing knowledge and grip is suspect. More serious is the way he has been squandering his vast resources on a bunch of cronies and unending "personal PR" which are being continuously echoed in the media and the parliamentary circles.

PCB Cricket Academy at Lahore and some of regional academies created at great expense and with so much planning have been lying dormant for about one year now. There seems of late to be a brewing crises among some of the top officials in the PCB and battle lines are clearly drawn. This is not a happy sign.

While the whole country is moving towardes the fruits of democracy, the one-man dictatorship in PCB must be replaced quickly with a democratic setup. The legacy of PCB being run by the President as also its queer system of Patron also needs to be changed.

This system has no parallel in any other country and the game everywhere is run by the boards like independent Corporate bodies. The authorities in Pakistan seem quite oblivious to this reality as this present happy position needs to be consolidated and strengthened by a strong cricket body. The days of one-man shows is no longer valid and it is time Pakistan wake up to rectify this analomy before it is too long. The present mega popularity, financial windfall and happy times are crying loudly for necessary reforms. Senate Committee on sports has been in the forefront of this move as also the prominent cricketers and national media. Some of the pertinent question asked by them about the relevance, probity and competence of present team running the game remain therefore largely unanswered.

HOCKEY

The sport which had started off as the most popular and rated as the national game has been in gradual state of decline. Once a passion for every Pakistani, Hockey had brought moments of glory and pride with its hat-tricks of Olympic Gold medals, memorable wins at World Cup, Champions Trophy and Asian Games level. But alas, all this is now past history. The latest edition of prestigious Champions Trophy ñ conceived by Air Marshal Nur Khan ñ saw Pakistan at Chennai virtually hit rock bottom claiming the dubious distinction of a wooden spoon" in the six-national contest. With its cupboard empty of any worthwhile title, Pakistan Hockey once a World super power, is now in shambles. This clearly calls for a serious evaluation and above all rolling of heads of present "management team" who have been found lacking in any innovative ideas to resurrect the game. There is need to bring fresh faces and fresh ideas as also proper inputs from the known experts and veterans who for some reasons have been sidelined for some time.

FOOTBALL

A lot of resources had been injected into the game, thanks to generous assistance of FIFA and there has been much hype about the uplift by the incumbent, Federation Chief, Faisal Saleh Hayat. However, the way Pakistan fared in its latest outing and failing to qualify for final rounds and tamely losing to Bangladesh, came as a rude shock to all soccer fans. There was time when areas now forming Pakistan, used to supply soccer stars to Dhaka and Kolkata for League Games but that too is part history. The game needs a much more serious effort and restructuring than its present poor state.

SQUASH

Pakistan was once Super Power in squash with the likes of Hashim Khan, Azam Khan, Roshan Khan, and then Jahangir and Jansher Khan who ruled the world. Now there is no Pakistani among the top 20 of the world and there seem no early solution to this drought on the national scene. Some former stars and top organisers have been exchanging blames for this sorry state but I would hold both equally responsible. These champions have been duping the public as when they were recipients of huge sponsorships and patronage they were always reluctant to give a helping hand to the young player. PIA for year tried to do the needful through their ëcolt schemeí, of which both Jahangir and Jansher are the proud products.

They should seriously ask themselves whether ever they had realised their own responsibility to repay their "debt" to the nation. Let us be honest for a change, Jahangir and Jansher, you both have been equally responsible as you were keen to go for greener pastures elsewhere like coaching children of Sultan of Brunei, rather than children of Noakhli or Lyari. So what are you waiting for, please come forward now if you failed earlier. You donít need any help as you can do it on your own at least to short the ball rolling.

ATHLETICS

From the golden 50s when Pakistan burst upon the Asian scene with a crop of fine athletes, Pakistan has gradually faded out of athletics in recent year. Same has been the case in other sports, like Badminton, Tennis, Wrestling and other disciplines. POA and PSB have been at the loggerheads of late but the fact remains there is a serious problem and all hands must join to think of way out. In Boxing, Pakistan has shown some promise due to pioneering efforts of Prof Anwar Chaudhry, the Pakistani President of AIBA. But he too seems to be giving up due to lack of support from POA, PSB and the corporate world for proper support of the game.

That Pakistan has produced World Champions in sport, like snooker, was a tribute to some high talent of local sportmen rather than an organised effort of a body. But it did bring moments of joy and delight to countless millions. What sport can do to rally the people, I suppose, is the underlying message and epitaph for the national sports, which needs far more serious consideration by our rulers than their present casual approach. Uplift of sports can bring about a true revolution and solution to many of our present day social evils, if one has the will to go about it.