No Ground for Budding Sportsmen

Written By: Omair Alavi

The state of sports in Pakistan has worsened during the last 20 years; some blame the local associations and federations for not doing much; others blame the lack of talent. What no one talks about is the grass root level and with that I mean the level where budding sportsmen are picked, nurtured and trained before being unleashed into the sporting arena. Yes, I am talking about lack of sports facilities in schools and what can be done to improve the situation, if we are to do well in sports.

 

The state of sports in Pakistan has worsened during the last 20 years; some blame the local associations and federations for not doing much; others blame the lack of talent. What no one talks about is the grass root level and with that I mean the level where budding sportsmen are picked, nurtured and trained before being unleashed into the sporting arena. Yes, I am talking about lack of sports facilities in schools and what can be done to improve the situation, if we are to do well in sports.

Pakistan remains one of those countries where children go to schools mostly because their parents want them to. The stale syllabus doesn’t attract them and neither does the way of teaching in most of the schools across the country. However, the free periods or those allotted for outdoor activities used to be something that pulled the students towards their educational institutions, and also towards studies.


That was back in the day when all leading schools – big or small – actively participated in sports and they had teachers with an eye to spot genuine talent. Nowadays, parents prefer schools that have air conditioners in their classrooms and give no thought to the lack of grounds, sports teachers and activities that might help students become sportsmen. Had the situation been the same in the past, Javed Miandad might not have become a test cricketer, Jahangir Khan might not have held the squash racket and Sohail Abbas might not have represented Pakistan at all.


Former test cricketer and coach of Pakistan cricket team Mohsin Khan once said in an interview that until and unless the government makes it compulsory for all educational institutions to have healthy activities and grounds, the state of sports in Pakistan will remain unchanged. Mohsin Khan had represented Pakistan in the late 70s and most of the 80s and when he spoke about grass root level, he meant it considering he had been a terrific badminton player before taking up cricket. He knew how things were managed at all levels and what was the root cause of the decline in sports.

 

Matters were made worse when authorities allowed influential people to open schools in residential areas as it not only damaged our educational system but also any hope of nurturing talented individuals. These schools hardly had space for the morning assembly, thinking about sports would have been deemed criminal in such institutions

Dr. Irfan Ullah also concurs with Mohsin and believes that playing outside the comfort zone is integral for a youngster as his body develops the more he plays outside. The World Health Organization defined health in its broader sense in its 1948 constitution as ‘a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. Dr. Irfan explains, "Playing and learning outdoor improves muscular strength, co-ordination, balance and dexterity. It has been documented that when they took part in outdoor activities and learning children performed significantly better on achievement tests and expressed higher interest and well-being and low anger, anxiety, and boredom".

 

notgroundfor.jpgDr. Irfan explains it beautifully and one must agree with him that sports and outdoor activities contribute significantly to mental well-being as well. "Today children tend to spend most of their time indoors and live in a virtual world, when not in school (or in tuition centres). Parks and recreational grounds are also vanishing and people living in apartments do not have a lot of interaction with their natural environment. This is a cause of concern because until and unless they go out, the future generation will spend most of its time sulking indoors and learning nothing significant. School grounds, on the other hand, provide a cheap, safe and ready access to the outdoors. It is important to bring up the issue of safety in the school grounds as it is a controlled and disciplined activity. Schools are safe and cheap vis-ä-vis parks and commercial places like gyms and sports clubs."


Parents are also to be blamed here because they don’t go for proper schools, rather they opt for the ones that don’t promote outdoor activities. Unfortunately, our education system treats all students the same way and had it been upto them, the world’s fastest bowler Shoaib Akhtar might not have seen the cricket ball, let alone make Pakistan proud. Students who have the capacity to do well in sports are nowadays treated as second rate because of the ‘he plays, doesn’t study’ phenomenon that parents and teachers accept wholeheartedly. Look at the example of current Pakistan Captain Misbah-ul-Haq–he achieved what many others haven’t in Pakistan by completing his MBA and also acing in the cricket field. If he can do it, why can’t others provided we give them a chance to show their skills.


Nearly all those who were young cricket enthusiasts in the 90s remember the Lombard Under 15 Cricket World Cup that was played in England in 1996. Pakistan and India qualified for the final and both the teams had players who would go onto represent their country’s national side in the coming years. Pakistan fielded Hasan Raza (youngest test player in the world), Taufeeq Umer (future Test opener), Faisal Iqbal (Captain, stylish batsman), Kamran Akmal (future wicket keeper), Shoaib Malik (future captain, all-rounder) and Bazid Khan (future cricketer and commentator) and would have won the event had it not been for India’s Reetinder Singh Sodhi who guided his side to victory with an unbeaten 82. The competition between both the teams was tough for most of the 55 overs (in those days, limited overs matches in England had 5 overs more than standard) and any team could have won the match. This shows that 20 years back, Pakistan was on equal grounds with India and it was after that mega event that things began to go haywire on this side of the Wagah.

 

Unfortunately, our education system treats all students the same way and had it been upto them, the world’s fastest bowler Shoaib Akhtar might not have seen the cricket ball, let alone make Pakistan proud. Students who have the capacity to do well in sports are nowadays treated as second rate because of the ‘he plays, doesn’t study’ phenomenon that parents and teachers accept wholeheartedly.

According to Faisal Iqbal, the test cricketer who led Pakistan in that event, the management in general and Pakistan Cricket Board in particular is to be blamed for this decline in standard of the game. ‘I have been a cricketer all my life and have come through a system that no longer seems to be working. There used to be inter-school and inter-collegiate matches in our days that were super competitive and provided budding cricketers a chance to show their skills. Our school as well as those who participated in the event had huge grounds to practice in and it was because of that we managed to give our best performances. There were no video games, no play stations or other consoles to distract us and we only had two things to do – either study or play sports. Sadly, things have changed for the worse as not only have parents lost interest in extracurricular activities of their children, the schools have either sold their grounds (to builders) or leased them for easy money, making it difficult for upcoming cricketers to flex their muscles.’


Faisal Iqbal may have a point because all over the country, playgrounds and empty spaces where once budding sportsmen used to play cricket, hockey, football and other sports have now been replaced by shopping malls, residential complexes and/or barbed wires to ensure nothing happens to what could be a golden goose in coming days. There is no excitement left in street cricket, there is no competition left in club cricket and due to prevailing law and order situation in the country, parents confine their children to their homes rather than allowing them to go out and play.


Matters were made worse when authorities allowed influential people to open schools in residential areas as it not only damaged our educational system but also any hope of nurturing talented individuals. These schools hardly had space for the morning assembly, thinking about sports would have been deemed criminal in such institutions. In some such educational institutions, the standard of education was excellent whereas in others, it was pathetic. Not having their own facility for sports added insult to injury for the pathetic schools because some of the students might have made them famous via sports, as had been the case in the past.


With the success of Pakistan Super League’s second edition, cricket in Pakistan has sort of gotten the boost it so dearly missed. Youngsters are once again taking interest in sports, budding cricketers are being selected on merit and not on their connections and things are moving in the right direction. However, the authorities must realize that there are other sports as well in the country and in order to make players understand their potential, they must bring a law that orders schools and colleges to have a separate facility for talented students. Having 'sports day' once a year isn’t enough as no one takes it seriously; sports activities are as important as educational ones and if we want to move ahead as a country, we must give equal importance to both. After all, whenever we think of our heroes, more often than not does the image of Sami Ullah, Jahangir Khan, Imran Khan and Wasim Akram comes to mind.

 

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