Sports in Pakistan has long meant cricket. That needs to change for healthy youth engagement

Sports is a healthy and entertaining activity. In advanced countries, it is not only encouraged, promoted and made an essential part of life, but also is a source of earning. After the commercialization of sports like that of franchising, it involves lots of monetary benefits for the owners and the players alike. However, there is a dearth of sports and youth engagement opportunities in our country for a large chunk of the population that is the youth, the most productive asset of a society. Engaging the youth in extracurricular activities can be helpful in countering terrorism and extremism, generating employment opportunities for youth and also improving the soft image of the government. There is a vast scope of youth engagement in sports and talent activities in the country and for realizing long-term gains, long-term planning is needed.

Pakistan was once the world champion of hockey, squash, cricket, etc.  Nowadays, except cricket, Pakistan is hardly considered as a tough challenger in those categories of sports in which the country was once a world champion. This decay resulted due to nepotism, inefficient management and lack of future planning. Despite all these shortcomings, there is still a vast potential in the arena of sports. For that purpose, a holistic approach is needed with a clear vision and dedication.

Promoting such a policy option may face the problems of proper strategic implementation and funding constraints. Therefore, short-term and long-term strategies are needed. For instance, in the short-run, famous games of sports like that of cricket, football, volleyball, hockey, kabaddi, snooker, badminton, cycling, marathon, etc. can be promoted from the district, then at the tehsil and union council level. In the long-run, other than the former category of sports can be given consideration, like table tennis, archery, swimming, chess, card games, karate, weightlifting, tennis, basketball, gymnastics, wrestling, motorsport, car racing, martial arts, etc.

For managing funds, at the beginning government should invest initial funds along with encouraging the local and international sponsors and donors. Multinational companies and large organizations willingly do so because they can get more public attention and advertisement by spending less amount than on investing on regular advertising campaigns. On the other hand, for the long term, sports should be commercialized on the pattern of Pakistan Super League in each category of sports at the grassroots level. It will ensure involvement of maximum people and they can drive their livelihoods from it. For example, those owning these clubs/franchises will be paying the players, their coaching and team staff. Furthermore, those players who will be performing better in sports can earn other prizes as well like that of man of the match, etc. thus through dedicated endeavors funds can be managed.

Other than that, establishment of multi-purpose playgrounds can be a cost-effective solution. Multi-purpose grounds should be constructed in all the districts at the beginning. However, with the passage of time and success of that initiative at the district level, it should be replicated at the grass-roots level. Sponsorships should highly be encouraged in this regard. For the encouragement of sponsors and donors, the parts of such facilities should permanently be named for those organizations which contribute in their construction.

For the success of such an initiative, a sports and physical education department can also be established in Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan, Peshawar, Karachi and Quaid-i-Azam universities. In this department, degree and non-degree courses related to the sports should be offered as in advanced countries. This step would help in establishing a link between academics and sports, and would produce professional sportsmen. Establishment of this department can be ensured through the legislation. Models of developed countries offering alike courses can be replicated.

Sports scholarship and publishing a periodical magazine can be motivating factors in sports. Scholarships should be awarded to the outperforming players by the government to those sportsmen who want to continue in any institution of the country. It will motivate them as they can continue their studies along with sports. Besides, periodical magazine should be published in which activities related to sports and youth can be published. Stories of players, team staff and their achievements can be mentioned. It will increase their popularity. Resultantly, it will encourage more competition and hard-work.

Furthermore, seasonal activities can also be organized as they are low-investment and entertaining as well. Talent activities like essay writing, quiz, singing, theatre, dance, debate, documentary, painting, stand-up comedy and photography can be organized once in a year. Annual literature festivals and annual youth parliaments acting like virtual national and provincial legislatures will provide excellent exposure to the youth and inculcate them sense of a responsible citizen of the society. Pakistan is bestowed with the blessing of a coastline. Beach games can be organized at least once in a year at the beach. Famous beach games as cricket, football, badminton, basketball, volleyball, short-range marathon, tug of war, archery, karate, gymnastics, kite-flying and sand castle/art on sand can be best options in this direction.

The most important step is that it should be all and gender inclusive strategy including male, female, children, special persons and the transgender community. For females, a few hours in a day can be fixed in muti-purpose playgrounds and there should be female category in each sports games. In order to encourage children, either sports should be mentioned in their academic certificates or a separate sports certificate should be introduced. Special persons’ games will motivate and make them competitive. According to the provisional census results, total number of transgender persons in 10, 418 throughout the country. Transgender community is the most marginalized people. Purpose of the inclusion should be to appreciate and encourage their talents and mainstream them.

Lastly, the importance of sports and recreational activities can be gauged from Rhodes Scholarship. This is the most prestigious scholarship in the world, selectees are given admission at Oxford University. One of the fourth criteria of Rhodes Scholarship requirement says: “energy to use one’s talents to the full (as demonstrated by mastery in areas such as sports, music, debate, dance, theatre, and artistic pursuits, particularly where teamwork is involved)”. Thus, for success and long-term planning, a holistic approach should be adopted. Promoting sports and engaging youth will channelize their energy towards constructive and healthy activities and keep them apart from negativities which may be inimical to the social fabric.  Gender inclusivity and seasonal activities will ensure its long term success and will also be helpful in achieving sustainable development goals.

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