The sorry plight of ‘other’ sports [TNS]

The sorry plight of ‘other’ sports [TNS]

by Alam Zeb Safi

It’s not easy to improve visibility of non-cricketing sports in Pakistan. We have produced boxing world champion in the shape of pro boxer Mohammad Waseem but very few in the country know him. He has no sponsors. Our wrestlers Mohammad Inam and Inayatullah won gold medals in Beach World Wrestling Championships in Turkey recently and they got only Rs500,000 each from the government.

We have produced world champions in snooker but they are also not visible. It looks as if cricket has devoured all other sports. Our cricketers live luxuriously and attract the attention of the public and media. Sponsors rush towards cricket with loads of money.

Recently, a departmental football event was held at KMC Stadium Karachi in which every day the venue was found jam-packed. But it was heart-wrenching that it failed to attract media, particularly television channels. If there is no media, there will be no sponsors. Astonishingly, the whole event was held within a small budget of Rs450,000. Hats off to the organizers who did a remarkable job!

A few years ago, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) dreamed of holding its professional league. And when it took the initiative, it succeeded because of the support of the corporate sector.

In India, which is also a cricket-mad nation, there are 2000 brands engaged in cricket. But now many have started sponsoring other sports like football, kabaddi, badminton, tennis and boxing because they feel that they cannot make prominent space in cricket sponsorship. And even players of other sports also have individual sponsors now in India.

Its football league has enormous viewership and is just behind its cricket league. But in Pakistan it does not seem that corporate sector has any interest in other sports. It worships cricket which has badly affected the rest of the sports. I don’t think that in this environment our other sports can sustain even the current standing in international circuit. With every passing day, challenges before them become tougher. Once Pakistan’s hockey and squash also used to enjoy sponsorship because of their leading standings in the world but now even they have no sponsors.

It is only through the assistance of the state that the rest of sports are breathing in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s other sports also need to have their pro leagues but it is very hard to do so. A sports management company has signed agreements with federations of kabaddi, volleyball and wrestling with the promise that the company would organise leagues for them but so far no concrete step has been taken seemingly due to lack of support from the corporate sector.

The respective federations now want to have a final word from the company as they have waited too long.

Let’s see what happens. What I have learnt from sources is that the company, which has sold franchises, wants to hold kabaddi league in April 2018. First it wanted to hold it in May 2017, then in June and July and then delayed it to December and now its new plans are for April.

No doubt there is a huge fan base of kabaddi in Punjab. The company which has decided to organise leagues has people of marketing. If they have issues how would a federation manage sponsors?

Volleyball and wrestling also have huge fan base in certain parts of the country and can be marketed if a solid plan is prepared. Pakistan is the world’s second best side after India in kabaddi and can easily develop its pro league.

Pakistan Kabaddi Federation (PKF) can itself manage it if it utilised the services of Chaudhries of Gujrat, who are influential enough to bring in major companies to back the league. They can even contribute to the league  themselves.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, a renowned politician, is the president of PKF. And Pakistan Volleyball Federation’s (PVF) chief Chaudhry Yaqoob also has strong links with the corporate sector. The players need money and pro leagues are the only source of getting that.

Naved Haider, who has loads of experience in sports marketing, says hockey and squash used to enjoy popularity but over the years due to bad performances these games have lost fans and the support of media and sponsors.

“Cricket in Pakistan has a huge following compared to the other games. It is the only professional sport which has attracted and enjoyed tremendous support from media and sponsors. Cricketers worldwide have become super heroes and icons,” Naved told ‘The News on Sunday’.

“People throng the stadia and are glued to their television sets to watch them in action. Their posters, autographs and pictures are sought by the fans. Brands sign them as their ambassadors and sign huge advertising and commercial campaigns. Cricketers are like movie stars. Sponsors get huge mileage from their endorsements. As much as 80 percent of their budget goes to cricket,” Naved said.

“Football, hockey, squash, snooker, kabaddi and other sports also have a great following but unfortunately they are still non-professional games with very little media and sponsor support. There have been great players in all these sports but none of them has come close to the popularity of cricketers. Sponsorships in these games are only event-based,” he added.

“Football is the happening game with a huge following. But due to infighting, government interference and a non-professional approach it has lost the interest of the sponsors. We have to professionalise sports in Pakistan to build a strong fan base and then media and sponsors will consider them seriously. Till then cricket will continue to rule the roost,” he said.

“All sports federations need to have competent professionals to run them. Unfortunately that has never been the case which has resulted in the collapse of sports standard in Pakistan. Not a single game or team or individual has qualified for the Olympics. It’s very sad. The government should stop appointing its blue-eyed, incompetent people as heads of sports federations and boards,” he said.

Published in The News on Sunday, 17 December 2017