General elections in Pakistan will be held on July 25 and political parties have shared their vision for the country's future via their manifestos. While the manifestos cover major social and economic issues, there is little mention of sports. A look at the manifestos of the three major political parties in the country, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Peoples' Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, shows that sports merely got ceremonial mentions. No major political party highlighted sports as a major topic, which shows that the country's leadership is yet to accept it as a serious topic to be addressed.
However, when Geo.tv contacted the leadership of the three major political parties, they shared their vision in details.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the party that ruled Pakistan from 2013 to 2018, has very little mention of sports in its manifesto. The party has also confusedly, it seems, mentioned AstroTurf (a brand) with artificial synthetic turf.
The party claimed the credit for starting Pakistan Super League, while highlighting its performance during its previous tenure.
In its manifesto, the PML-N has stated that it previously established an endowment fund worth Rs1.38 billion to support and prepare 6,000 high-performing athletes. It further claimed that it set up 280 sports facilities across Pakistan including construction of boxing and Olympic gymnasium meeting Olympic standards, and increased Punjab sports budget by 480%.
It now promises to “enhance sports infrastructure”, if elected again.
PML-N’s promises for 2018-23 include establishing 250 new stadiums and 50 “AstroTurfs”, building academies at all levels and introducing sports programs in all educational institutes.
Replying to questions sent by Geo.tv, Shehbaz Sharif – the president of PML-N – promised amendment in sports policy with inputs from players and professional sports bodies.
“Pakistan will only be able to regain its lost space on the sporting circuit when those involved with sports at any level are properly compensated for, enabling them to give their 100% without any other worry. Performance in my view is a function of rewards,” Sharif told Geo.tv.
"If the mission statement is to restore Pakistan’s lost glory in sports, then the sports policy will need to be reviewed and amended with the input of professional bodies and players. We will go beyond the provision of financial incentives and address the structural issues impeding the growth of sports in Pakistan,” Shehbaz added.
Terming sports as a necessary part of the productive utilisation of the raw energies of the youth, the PML-N president hinted at allocation of a minimum of 3% of GDP for the promotion of sports.
“Even the best of policies cannot achieve their desired result unless you make enough resources available to promote sports. So, my plan to improve sporting standards is that we will back comprehensive policy with sufficient budgetary allocations. We will fill the sporting bodies with those possessing requisite knowledge and field experience purely on merit,” said the former chief minister of Punjab.
He also emphasised that PML-N’s policy for sports will not be confined to one sport only.
“This lack of balance will be addressed on priority. Many sports died because enough resources were not available to fund them,” he said, stressing that other sports are as important as cricket.
“There are many local sports that are very popular. So our policy will focus on the promotion of both local and international sports. This is possible if we reignite the spirit of competition at the level of schools and colleges."
Shehbaz also highlighted that many countries in the world are known for sports and that, if elected, his government would give utmost importance to sports.
“Countries around the world are investing heavily in the promotion of sports and related activities. Games are a means by which countries can promote their soft power. Many countries are better known in the world for their preeminence in sports,” said Shehbaz.
“There is no denying the importance of sports in creating a healthy society. More than a physical activity, sports offer much more deep and meaningful lessons. They make us disciplined, teach us the value of hard work and above create a sportsman spirit. If people are hale and hearty, it directly translates into better economic outcomes. The countries whose playgrounds are populated have its hospitals deserted."
Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP), headed by the young Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has promised to “revitalise sports”, with specific mentions for football and a fund for sports.
“Sports is another essential area of youth development, fostering team building skills, resilience, confidence, and a sense of cohesion, in addition to allowing for healthy physical activity,” the PPP says in its manifesto.
“To encourage more youth to partake in sports, the PPP will strengthen the Pakistan Sports Board and the Olympic Association of Pakistan, promote local football associations, organize annual football league matches, set up a sports fund for players and sporting events, and build state-of-the-art stadiums and sports facilities in large and small cities,” the PPP adds in the paragraph about sports in their manifesto.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chairman of PPP, told Geo.tv that his party will strengthen the professional sports bodies in the country and will also support local sports associations.
The leader said that they will work for the promotion of other sports too, including football and boxing.
“The PPP will strengthen the Pakistan Sports Board and the Olympic Association of Pakistan. We will support and promote local sporting associations so that the organizational network and infrastructure to sustain sporting activity in the country can be established on firm footing and sustained in the long run,” Bilawal stated while replying to a question about his plans for improving standards of sports in Pakistan.
“To support athletes, we will set up a sports fund. We are aware of the fact that much of the sports expenditure is related to cricket in the country but we will promote other sports as well, not just hockey and football. We will promote and facilitate their local associations so as to enable them to hold tournaments and matches, and invest in training of young talent,” Bilawal, 29, said.
He highlighted that in Lyari there is an indigenous talent for football and boxing in particular, and stressed if appropriate support is given then more of Pakistan’s youth can shine on the world stage.
He also promised to increase the budget for sports. “Yes, it goes without saying,” he responded to a question about an increase in allocation for sports for the coming years.
“Given our unequivocal commitment to the betterment of the youth of Pakistan. And in that, the promotion of sport plays an important role. We will seek to enhance the budget for sports at all levels,” Bilawal said.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which is headed by former cricket captain Imran Khan, has bundled sports with arts and culture.
The paragraph on sports in PTI’s manifesto starts with the mention of Pakistan’s dismal show at the Rio Olympics 2016 and has blamed the government’s negligence towards sports for this decline.
“Sports in Pakistan, except cricket, have faced systemic neglect from the Government. In the 2016 Summer Olympics, Pakistan had only 7 representatives, none of whom had originally qualified, and were given wildcard entries by the Rio Olympics. From a population of nearly 200 million, this means one athlete per 27 million people, an abysmal performance,” PTI says in its manifesto for Election 2018.
The party has promised the voters that it will, if elected, provide sports infrastructure and organise regular sports activities.
“We will provide play-grounds at tehsil level, training centres and gymnasiums at divisional level to be used for training provincial and national teams and category ‘A’ sports complexes at the provincial level through a phased approach,” it says.
“We will hold inter-district, inter-division, provincial and national games annually for young people,” the party has promised.
However, there was no mention of athlete development and incentives for the players representing the country.
PTI spokesman Fawad Chaudhry, while responding to questions sent by Geo.tv, said that the party will take drastic measures to bring reforms and improvement of sports benchmarks in the country.
“PTI's agenda of transforming sports is driven out of our policy of professionalism and merit. Reforms into less productive or outdated structures could not bring desired fruits if administrative structures like PCB, PHF, PFF etc are not transformed,” he said.
“Appointments of professional players blessed with both vision and expertise as heads of sports bodies would be the fundamental [element] of our reforms in sports which would be complemented with enhanced resource allocation and provision of opportunities,” Fawad said.
He added that PTI, as a political party, has an exclusive vision and plan to transform sports structures in the country to tap untouched potential.
Fawad further said that under the agenda of human development, PTI is determined to invest in sports along with health and education to enhance prospects of development and employment for youth that covers an overwhelming chunk of our national population.
Replying to a question about sports budget, the PTI leader said that it needs careful consideration in order to account for cost-effectiveness.
“We would certainly be doing that and maintain an active link between budgetary demands and outcomes. Reducing administrative costs and enhancing production is key to our budgeting policy and we will employ this in sports as well."
The PTI official also promised that their policy will not be cricket-centric and added that they will work to revive the lost glory of Pakistan in squash and hockey.
“We think restoration of hockey is the most viable option. Tennis, wrestling and boxing also have potential. So we will adopt a holistic approach and develop maximum in terms of quality players and games,” the PTI leader promised.