Mar 15 - 21, 2010

Globally sports sponsorship involves billions of dollars but Pakistan has a minuscule share. It is confined to only a few sports and sponsors could also be counted on fingers. Money may not be a serious constraint but the mindset that it is a waste of money has not allowed Pakistani sportsmen to attain global recognition. Baring cricket it is difficult to find sponsors for other sports. In the yesteryears, legendary Jahangir Khan was a reason for sponsoring Squash but after his exit, not too many have found sponsors.

In Pakistan, the largest beneficiary of sports sponsorship has been one of the private television channels. Since it airs sports round the clock, money going to the channel is clubbed up for sports sponsorship. The advertisers range from banks to FMCG manufacturers and from mobile phone companies to spices and mineral water. Sportsmen also benefit by modeling in commercials and wearing dresses with big logos of the sponsoring companies.

In Pakistan, a few tobacco companies used to sponsor cricket matches. Since these companies have been stopped from airing their commercials on the television channels, the sponsorship by these companies has been reduced to almost zero. Of late, some of the commercial banks have emerged as major sponsors of cricket, the latest craze being Twenty20.

ABN AMRO Bank was the first to sponsor these tournaments and the legacy is being carried forward by RBS, which bought global operations of ABN AMRO Bank. Bank Alfalah has also emerged not only a major sponsor of cricket, but almost all the sports.

In Pakistan, many corporate and public sector entities have been not only sponsoring sports events but employing sportsmen. If hockey players were the apple of eye during yesteryears, cricketers have always remained the most sought after players. A few entities employ boxers, footballers, cyclists, and athletes.

The discussions with Nasim Hameed, winner of the gold medal of 100-meter race at Asian games, revealed that hardly any sponsorship money had gone towards athletics. In fact, sponsors are not fully aware of the potential in this area. However, it is not surprising because when legendary Hashim Khan went to play his first British Open of Squash he also did not have enough money to buy the 'kit'.

The nation at large could be held responsible for this apathy. Large corporate and even smaller companies sponsor all sorts of television entertainment programs. However, when it comes to the sponsorship of players and events the same companies become tightfisted. If any individual with his/her sole effort attains some recognition some money starts poring in. However, the moment the particular person loses fame only a pathetic death awaits him.

It is understood that years of hard work is required to make a debut and that is the time a sportsman needs patronage. Nasim Hameed did not clinch the medal in one day. She worked hard for years to even qualify her for the national team. She is a sprinter and ever needs appropriate diet and training to make her mark. Those were the difficult days and the support was missing when she needed it the most. The only point of consolation is that she has been given recognition after winning the competition. Now she needs even harder training to qualify to participate in the Olympics. Can the sponsors make her dream come true?

It would not be wrong to say that Pakistan having a population of about 200 million has hundreds and thousands of young talents. Most of them remain undiscovered and even after coming to limelight become victim of nepotism.

In the past, there were cricket tournaments at city levels, which gave a large pool of talent and selecting the national team posed no issue. In the past, schools and collages also produced world-class hockey players. Among these names, Habib Public School stands distinguished. Many of the Hockey legends have been produced by this school. The talent was there and Habib School groomed and nurtured world-class players.

One of the problems in identifying and developing talent pool of sportsmen is lack of participation of students in games, particularly hard work for long hours. The poor financial condition of individuals also becomes an obstacle. People become so splurged in 'making the two ends meet' that hardly any energy is left to participate in sports. Malnutrition is the worst enemy of human being and if nearly half of the population is living below the poverty line, preparing sportsmen for competition at international levels would only remain a far cry.

According to many critics, only those sports are sponsored which have some attraction for elites. In the past, tennis and squash events were shown live on television because rich people could convince the advertisers to feed funds. However, some critics say that advertising budget are directly linked with sales, if sales remain low in a particular year, advertisers would not enjoy access to advertising budget.

Some critics say that sponsoring sports should be made part of social responsibilities. Others oppose saying Pakistan suffers from a variety of problems therefore areas such as safe drinking water, containing environmental pollution, and developing human capital should be given attention. Once people enjoy job security, food and shelter only then they would have time to participate in sports. However, sports cannot be ignored completely and sponsorship is necessary.