Beyond the realms of Cricket

No doubt Younus Khan is Legend, but a cricketer headlining a football event is all that's wrong with Pakistan's sporting infrastructure.

FIFA world cup trophy landed in Pakistan on Saturday accompanied by cricketing legend Younus Khan, actress Maya Ali, singers Quratulain Balouch and Momina Mustehsan, and Pakistan national footballer Kaleemullah Khan.

The trophy was unveiled during the ongoing Coke Fest 2018 at Lahore’s Lake City Golf and Country club in a glittery, star-studded and instrumental event in the country’s provincial capital. French 1998 world cup winner, Christian Karembeu unveiled the trophy and presented Pakistani’s with a once in a lifetime opportunity to snap a picture with the gold-soaked accolade.

While the trophy is a testament of the world’s greatest sport, the ceremony was, however, dominated by showbiz fraternity, possibly due to the musical night or the coke fest. There was a criminal lack of Pakistani representatives of the game itself and by the looks of it – the ceremony audience let’s say – one would think the FIFA world cup trophy was an equivalent of a Grammy or an Oscar.

This, however, is not Coca Cola’s fault or necessarily a jibe at Pakistan’s beloved celebrities. In fact, I would like to commend the organisers and the audiences to present Pakistan with a day to cherish. Kaleemullah Khan and Hajra Khan, Pakistan’s women football team spearhead, were the only prominent Pakistani footballers present during the event, but their presence was overshadowed by the one’s we so often see on our televisions.

And as much of a Legend as Younus Khan is, a cricketer headlining a football event is all that’s wrong with Pakistan’s sporting infrastructure.

Pakistan is ranked 190 in FIFA rankings. Despite a vast majority of Pakistan’s youth bulging with adoration of the sport and rich talent, the country’s national football team has, for years, been in shambles. Back in October 2017, FIFA banned Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) over ‘undue third party interference’. The ban means that Pakistan will be deprived of training, funding and FIFA offered courses to the country’s aspiring cadre of footballers.

Football is played across the country on a broad scale, but most of it is a leisure activity. There is an overwhelming minority that would only go on to professionally pursue the sport due to a lack of financial compensations and opportunities. But that’s not just football’s ordeal – all major sports in the country, except for Cricket, suffer from a lack of attention and guidance. For instance, Hockey, Pakistan’s national sport, has ceased to produce any fruitful results anymore.

On the other hand, Cricket is Pakistan’s jugular-vein. It would continue to be because of the glittery promotions, higher chances to earn money, fame and government incentives here and there. Every time Pakistan cricket team wins a major tournament, a government-organised ceremony is held in honour of the sportsmen, and deservedly so, to announce cash prizes worth millions.

All of it, however, seems like an opportunistic publicity stunt when sportsmen like Boxer Muhammad Waseem, Mixed Martial Artist Ahmed Mujtaba, U-18 Snooker champion Naseem Akhtar and dozens of more complain of a lack of support from the very same government. It is because either government representatives vehemently follow cricket or the aforementioned sports stars do not possess the same market value the government could seemingly cash on to for furthering their agendas.

Ahmed Mujtaba, Pakistan’s finest MMA youth, said this during one his interviews in 2016: “The media can report anything, even unimportant issues like the chai wala, and broadcast it over and over again, but we the fighters who work so hard and showcase the name of Pakistan in a positive way, spread the message of peace, hardly get any attention by our own media.”

Mujtaba defends his UGB Featherweight world title

Muhammad Waseem, Pakistan’s boxing prospect, made similar statements last November: “I don’t want to stop representing Pakistan but, I am extremely disappointed that no one from the government fulfilled their promise (of funding and sponsorship) and did not even bother to call me”.

Waseem with his WBC title

Even Kaleemullah Khan has stressed multiple times on PFF’s corruption and a lack of support from the government.

No cricketer has ever complained about a lack of support from the government, lack of resources or poor training facilities. Although, the domestic circuit is not ideal, but the scenario is far better than what practitioners of other sports have to deal with. The Glitz and Glamour of cricket is possibly one reason why there are thousands of candidates for those 11 spots in the national team. If other sports had equal opportunities, there would be a subtle balance in performances and success rates.

World Cup trophy’s arrival in Pakistan is one to remember, but one has to remember too that Pakistan has never had a go at it, and the way the sport is being treated in the country, positive results are just a mere delusion.

But maybe – let’s hope and be optimistic – one day the government and the related sports authorities would realise that the country needs a sporting equilibrium. Maybe one day we will see Pakistan in a World Cup, or bag golds in Olympics. Maybe we will see one of our boxers become a WBC Champion or an MMA fighter conquer UFC gold. The road to it all is not difficult though, all we would have to do is look beyond the realms of cricket.