Clean up the act or give up the act!! – the state of football in Pakistan

There is often need for radical solutions when faced by radical challenges. Pakistan is full of them and its sports sector is very much in the mix. The country where sport provided hope for the youth and elders prayed for their heroes to succeed. Times are changing, the youth are now the middle aged and have seen the demise of entire sports sector and the current younger generation doesn’t have that hope. Pakistan dominated the world scene with wrestling, followed by squash and hockey dominating for a quarter of century.

Pakistan progress since then has been finishing bottom at the hockey world cup this year and no squash player making into top 5 in ranking or winning any grand slam! Wrestling is almost gone to the grave where former national champions sell cold drinks on streets to make a living, only in Pakistan that sporting heroes are treated in this manner.

Cricket has not been spared either by this cruel system, after winning 2 world cups in 2 different format Pakistani cricket is still far from being professional. Cricket holds a very special place in the heart of every Pakistani, started with 1992 World Cup and the demise of hockey and squash, it became one and only alternative. Administration after administration has taken revenge on all of these sports like they have personal vendetta. They come and enjoy the high life and then leave the organisation in a mess with no accountability what so ever.

Let’s review how Pakistani sports sector went down the drain and what needs to be done before it’s completed destroyed and there is no future on the international scene for Pakistani teams. Pakistan is a very sensitive and passionate nation when it comes to sport and hockey and cricket in particular. They are also known for their knee-jerk reaction when the teams fail to live up to their expectations, which are often too high.

Every sports federation has failed to come up with a long term vision alongside a short and medium term vision in order to develop a vast network within their sport that could secure the future, but they have been most concerned about holding on to the seats and enjoy the perks come with it.

Sports sector in Pakistan is still trying to reach semi-professional standard where the world is going to the very top end of professionalism. Even Pakistan’s neighbour, who many of Pakistan federation chiefs compare themselves with, have no competition whatsoever. Cricket in India is valued at more than $1.5 billion, whereas Pakistan’s whole sports sector wouldn’t come near that amount.

Indian football is valued at almost $70million. India has worked on professionalising its sports sector and its hugely supported by the corporate sector in India where big firms like Bharti Airtel spending 1billion Rupee on a football academy, Lakshmi Mittal’s Champions Trust where he has spent $9million to help the top 10 athletes train for the Olympics and it was paid off when Abhinav Bindra picked up gold medal in Beijing. In Pakistan there is no work being done to assure the aims are met at Olympics, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.

There is great level of cohesion and vision shared by sports federations in order to take India forward. This was seen when BCCI and Lalit Modi handed out $2.5million to All Indian Football Federation in order to help Indian football team prepare for the 2011 Asian Cup. This is very hard to find in Pakistan where everybody is focusing on their own seat and ignoring the greater good sports can do for Pakistan. Cricket Board helps many other countries, it could ask assistance in return to help other federations. For example help in Athletics or Football from China where Pakistan has play crucial role in developing cricket.

In Pakistan the Head of Olympic Association can say 3years prior to the games that there is no hope for a medal and still be in charge of the organisation. He is responsible to deliver and if he believes there is no hope for medal, he has no right to be there. But this is Pakistan and these statements are not taken seriously but the athletes pay the prices and the administrators in their air conditioned offices get to keep their jobs.

Sports authorities in Pakistan still live hand to mouth and that’s why they have not achieved anything in the last 60years. The sports system applied in Pakistan right now is what Western Europe moved on from more than half a century ago. This also shows how far behind Pakistan is in it would take them another 50years to reach at fully professional level and by then the world will be at a different stage.

The departmental system has failed miserably and yet there is no other alternative being discussed. Normally in a game of football if a team is losing 1-0 at half time, the coach changes the formations for the second half because the first half is seen as a failure but in Pakistan things have been continuously been ignored for 60years. There is still no clear distinction between the 3 different sectors that run sport, (Public, Private and Voluntary). Former world champions and Olympians in hockey and legends in cricket come forward making remarks on how to revive their respective sports and yet they still stick to the point of departmental teams and fixed jobs.

It may be fine for those players coming from lower or working class but those from the middle class and upper middle class with talent in various sports may not want to be part of this departmental culture. They rather give up their sports and go abroad and study and get better jobs and unlimited amount of talent is wasted in Pakistan this way, because there is no professionalism, no vision and no merit.

Being a politician, ex-serviceman, a bureaucrat or a relative of either is seen as a merit when getting these high posts. Current Chairman of PCB is a perfect example where cricket has gone down the drain, players forced to pay the price and yet he enjoys the VIP treatment.

Take Pakistan Football Federation for example, it only had one member in its hierarchy with football background who was removed from his post and since then the Federation is headed by a prominent politician and day to day is down to retired servicemen, who are far from ideal for such job. PFF was actually set up by Quaid-e-Azam in 1948 and Pakistan is yet to even qualify for the Asian Cup, let alone World Cup. It has not been able to win the senior regional tournament consisting of South Asian nations. In Pakistan every incumbent administration blames its predecessors, but how long can they carry on for? Especially in case of PFF where the president has not been in charge for 7 years, and president of Sindh Football Association has been in power for good 3 decades. It is time for Pakistan to realise that sport is a business. You cannot longer live hand to mouth on grants provided by international and national bodies. Politicians and ex-servicemen will not be the people realising this. It should be left to the professionals.

Couple of years ago I came across a vacancy posted on PFF’s website for a District Co-ordinator for Football Development. The qualifications required for the job was an MSc Degree in Sports Science! One with sports background would straightaway pick up on this and question who is a sports science degree relevant to district level co-ordinator? Sports scientists work on enhancing and optimising performance within sports teams and not work on grassroots. For this job you would need somebody with a basic degree in sports Development or coaching.

But the question should be raised of person advertising the vacancy. He is head of Operations Wing and he himself doesn’t have any sports related, business related, marketing related or HR related degree. What right does it give him to ask for a MSc for district co-ordinator when he isn’t qualified for the post himself?

Other federations face similar problems. Pakistan Cricket Board pays Javed Miandad in region of $10,000 a month as Director Operations. He is a former player and coach. He isn’t qualified to run sports organisation, his experience lies on the ground not off it. It had Aamir Sohail, former captain as marketing director! While being a left handed opener, what experience has he got in marketing and PR?

For real jobs you need people with experience and knowledge in their respective areas of expertise.

Pakistan has failed to win an individual gold medal at the Olympics in its history and there is no hope for a medal at the upcoming games. It is often mind boggling that why spend so much money into something which is a proven failure. Pakistan should clean up its sports sector radically or just pack it in because every single sport in Pakistan is going in the opposite direction.

Politics and sports come hand in hand; this relationship is also one of the root causes of demise of high profile sports in Pakistan and the sports sector in general. Sports minister is changed almost at every cabinet reshuffling. There is no sports constitution, there is no national sports policy but the PM is Patron of Hockey Federation and President is Patron of Cricket Board. What about other sports associations?

Other federations are crying out for help, recently President of Boxing Federation asked for such affiliation with his organisation. One should look beyond these honorary roles and stand on their own feet. The two biggest sports federations having the two of the highest public office holders as their patrons sets wrong precedence in its own terms that other federations feel undone by the special treatment received by the 2 big federations.

There are other Federations which have high profile individuals as their presidents such as Army Chief and Air Chief Marshal being president of Golf and Squash Federations respectively. Where would these serving officers find time required to uplift these sports from the ruins?

Pakistan need to restructure its sports sector urgently and radically as highlighted above and supported how the current system has failed for more than 5 decades. Sports has always offered a way out from troubles, Australians fell in love with sport after the great depressions and now their mentality in field of sport cannot be compared. USSR and China held successful Olympic Games in order to showcase their rise in sport despite being viewed very negatively because their communist regimes.

But for sport needs visionary people no matter where they come from on the political spectrum. India has now burst on to global scene as an upcoming sports nation with IPL taking the world by storm and now lining up a similar league for football and other sports.

India doesn’t have a history with sport like European countries therefore it is easy for them to work on commercial model and has proved fruitful. Pakistan’s sports ministry needs come up with a sports constitution and a national sports policy. Sports Board and Olympic Association should be restructured and no serving or ex politician should be allowed to take any post in these 2 organisations. Specialists in this field should be hired, sports management, sports development, marketing, PR, administration and HR. Then each sports federation should be restructured following the same systematic changes.

This should be replicated at all Provincial and Regional associations. Pakistani sports require a top-down change and quick. Somebody can continue to work at a club or academy level for all their lives but will never be able to bring change. The change could either be done in phases or the radical solution could be to suspend all sports federations including sports board and Olympic association for a 2 year transition period. This time could be used to develop infrastructure and outlines the best candidates for the jobs available in the sports federation. Pakistan will not miss out very much in this time because it has not achieved that much in 60 years anyway.

Allama Iqbal once said that “Vision without power does bring moral elevation but cannot give a lasting culture. Power without vision tends to become destructive and inhuman. Both must combine for the spiritual expansion of humanity.” This statement is taken here in the context of sport in Pakistan. For far too long power without any vision has destroyed the sport and people with vision and passion have been sidelined, or banned by the might of those in charge. They must work together in order to expand the sports sector and improve the image of the country.

Every federation should be independently audited, unqualified staff should be relieved from their duties and a professional constitution should be in place. An independent commission should interview the candidates for each position vacant at the organisation. Every single department of each federation should now have the right people for the job and all should be working on a clear agenda and serving Pakistan.

But even by changing the system on how federations are run is not enough, there is second part to all this. The leagues should be restructured and it should become either club based or a new franchise model should be introduced as seen in IPL and in RBS T20. Departmental system is running like a link between volunteer and public sports sector where professional/private sector is yet to be fully introduced. Cricket, Hockey and Football alike are still asking various departments to set up teams and offer players jobs in order to forge careers.

For a country with a population of over 170 million, it’s mind-boggling that Pakistan cannot even produce 50 top class athletes for all sports to make their mark on the work. Compare that with how smaller countries like Netherlands, Austria, Cyprus, and the rest with populations that would make a city like Karachi chuckle would beat us easily in just about any sport they play professionally in.

Our sports setup has always been more political than professional. Unless these organisations have a dedicated and professional marketing and management department that deals with the expansion and growth of sport as an industry rather than just a glorified hobby, then I am sorry to say that Pakistani sport will become non-existent over the next few decades – shameful for such a large and talented, but disorganised, country.