by Mohammed Shahnawaz (Senior editor at FPDC)

Successive governments in the past have paid little attention to addressing the issue of the rapid decline in the quality of sports — except cricket — in the country. Every election season, each political party puts in a paragraph or two on sports in its manifesto as a formality to be completed.

The 2018 general elections were no different. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had fewer words this time than there were in its previous manifestos but it still mentioned a special focus on developing football (perhaps because the Pakistan Football Federation is headed by PPP’s Faisal Saleh Hayat). The PPP also promised to uplift boxing in Lyari and to reform the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) and Pakistan Olympic Association (POA), even though it failed to do so in its previous tenures.

Similarly, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had made tall claims of producing 6,000 elite athletes in its tenure. It mentioned investment into infrastructure development and how it would further improve on that. The PML-N also promised to install 50 artificial turfs and spend three per cent of the GDP on sports — more than what Pakistan spends on education.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is a party led by a former sportsman, so everyone expected it to cover sports in detail. Sadly, it merely added a few more words in its manifesto than the others, and lumped sports with arts and culture.

When the PTI came into power there was renewed hope that the government would do something for the betterment of sports. After all, for years Prime Minister Imran Khan had lambasted the current sports set-up in the country and talked about bringing it in line with the rest of the world. Like the previous governments, the PTI too was quick to show its hand by appointing a new Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman. Coalition ally and former National Assembly speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza of GDA was made the Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination, which makes her the head of PSB as well. Although the prime minister had promised to form a sports reform task force, nothing as yet has happened on that front.

One feels that the government can show its seriousness about reforming the sports sector through such a task force. Any task force can look at wider issues in Pakistani sports, but the PSB must be reformed simultaneously. The PSB is the biggest elephant in the room which this government needs to address immediately because, as time goes by, making structural changes will become difficult for the minister in charge. It must also be kept in mind that the post of the Director-General is vacant for a fulltime professional after the recent arrest on corruption charges of the former PSB DG Akhtar Nawaz Ganjera.

The PSB’s role has changed after the 18th Amendment. It is important that the government understand what the PSB and the provincial sports boards should be doing. Currently, the PSB has a board of 37 members and an Executive Committee of 16 members. The Board has been reduced from well over 70 members, but it is still too big. Both the Board and Executive Committee have various hand-picked former athletes and businessmen. They have representatives from various federations which have been close to the PSB leadership. Restructuring can start by making sure that one independent ‘board’ is answerable to the PSB President/IPC Minister.

The board should be appointed by the minister in consultation with the IPC secretary, stakeholders and with recommendations from the Standing Committee on Inter-Provincial Coordination. The board members should be of high calibre with corporate and sports backgrounds. Once the board is appointed, it should proceed with internal restructuring of the organisation by appointing a professional as DG/CEO instead of a career civil servant. While it is going to be impossible to completely get rid of bureaucracy from the PSB, the CEO should bring in professionals to serve in key roles.

The lack of funds is a major issue for the PSB, particularly when most of its Rs900m plus budget is spent on salaries, pensions and grants to sports federations (some are getting paltry sums). Also, despite having renowned businessmen on the board and its Executive Committee, the PSB’s financial situation hasn’t improved. This needs to be looked at.

While the new government has promised to invest more in sports, excessive funding for sports is unlikely at this point in time. Therefore, having professionals running the sports board is key, as they can work towards finding innovative solutions to raise funds through corporate sector involvement — something the people behind the Pakistan Super League (PSL) have managed to achieve.

The PSB must take inspiration from other such organisations across the world, such as Sport England and Sport Australia, in developing and promoting sports in the country. It should define its role to help elite athletes in the country to prepare for international events; it should devise a national plan to raise awareness about healthy and active lifestyles through sports; address sports participation issues; and work with national federations and NGOs.

The PSB needs to work on introducing a sports legislation which could address modern-day challenges around governance, integrity, ethics and transparency. Currently, the PSB is bound by the National Sports Policy of 2005, but it has failed miserably in the proper implementation of the policy.

No sports federation in the country has a corporate legal status beyond its PSB affiliation under the Sports Control Ordinance of 1962. In India, all its sports federations are registered under the Societies Act of 1860 and are bound by national laws around accountability and transparency such as the Right to Information and term limits. The PSB must legislate to bring these federations under a new law in order for them to be legal entities, or ask them to register under the Societies Act of 1860.

Once these measures are taken, then one can expect the PSB and its partners to move forward in providing the required funding, developing infrastructure and introducing high level of competitions to ensure there are better pathways for athletes to realise their potential.

Published in Dawn, EOS, November 4th, 2018