By Gulrukh Tausif
Recently I came across a blog written by an Australian cricket journalist Dennis Freedman. In the blog he said, “We all saw the large crowd outside of Sarfraz Ahmed’s home when he returned victorious with the Champions Trophy. If roles were reversed and that was Steve Smith, the only thing outside his house would have been the neighbor’s cat.”
This is by no means to downplay the phenomenal achievement of our cricket team in the recent Champion’s Trophy, but an indication that in developed countries sports are part and parcel of their culture. They do not sink to total abyss of darkness when their teams lose a tournament nor do they react so strongly if the national teams win matches.
I feel that in Pakistan we have made cricket an idol. We worship at its feet and we allow our emotions to run away with ourselves when it comes to anything cricket… but at what cost.
Our children can barely name five other sports that we play on international level. They have trouble recognizing hockey, snooker or boxing players. Recently an old squash match between Jehangir Khan and Jansher Khan was being replayed on PTV Sports. It made me very sad and nostalgic when my two sons could not recognize the two squash maestros. They did not even know Pakistan once dominated squash like no other country in the world.
Nobody is interested in hockey. No one cares about badminton, karate, kabaddi and tennis. Is there such a dearth of talent in Pakistan or is it just apathy at every level by our successive governments?
I wonder if any policy maker has ever wondered what sports can do for a nation like ours. Do they even think about its benefits or the need to establish sports academies across the countries? According to estimation, out of 180 million, 64% Pakistan’s population comprises of youth. Pick up any newspaper and you will see an alarming number of problems faced by the under-privileged youth in Pakistan. These young men and women have become victims to some of the worst horrors known to society; poverty, child abuse, drug addiction, underage marriages, rape, and domestic violence, just to name a few.
Growing up with such horrors, they spend their entire lives on the fringes of society with no hope or vision of a better life. One thing that can change this scenario is the availability of sports facilities. Research in Phoenix City, Arizona has proved that giving children a chance to play sports keeps them busy and thus, away from trouble. By simply keeping basketball courts and other youth recreational facilities open till late night decreased the juvenile crime rate by as much as 55%. There was reduction in armed robberies, gang violence and mugging on the streets.
Sports not only foster physical fitness and mental health, it relieves troubled youth of stress, anger and frustration so they don’t vent it in a dangerous way. It fulfills the gaping vacuum in their life. It gives them a sense of pride and builds self-confidence. Sports are the best platform which can be used to meet new friends, learn to compete and face challenges that helps them fight adverse situations in real life.
“Sport has become a world language, a common denominator that breaks down all the walls, all the barriers. It is a worldwide industry whose practices can have a widespread impact. Most of all, it is a powerful tool for progress and development.” – Ban Ki-Moon (UN Secretary-General)
“Sport has the power to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest leaders of our time. “It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”
Offering sports opportunities keeps children engaged in positive, healthy activities and reduces the chances of them ending up in jails or worse. It allows them to escape the harsh realities of life. Other than the obvious benefit of maintaining a healthy body, sports encourages them to live and work together and develops a sense of teamwork. Above all, it gives young people something to hope for.
Media too has to play a very important role. More coverage should be given to sports other than cricket. We need government funded sports academies where local and foreign coaches teach our children football, martial arts, tennis, squash, swimming and other sports. Schools, colleges and universities need to wake up too.
The decline of sports in Pakistan has gone unabated for too long. It is the need of the hour that our government gathers all stakeholders and invites people of vision to discuss this issue. Lack of professionalism by people at helm of the affairs has left us far behind the world. Many rising stars have achieved personal glory on basis of true grit and personal resources, without any help from government.
A British behavioral psychologist stated: “There are similarities between sport and gangs; both present a sense of belonging, status and excitement. Take away the sports, you are left with gangs.”
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