By Shahid Khokhar
In Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) regime cricket experienced a massive post-mortem. The departmental cricket has been abolished and a six-team regional set-up has been imposed, split into two tiers including the first-class and non-first-class.
All major departments have been advised by the federal government to sponsor the new set-up in which teams have been named in the names of regions.
In fact departmental sports don’t contribute much and have become a burden for the respective organisations but abolishing departmental cricket so suddenly is wrong.
In the past few decades, Pakistan experienced a huge deterioration in almost every field due to corruption, dishonesty, nepotism, hypocrisy, treachery and lawlessness. It affected every aspect of society, also including sports which already is not on the state’s priority list.
Strong fan-base is the soul of the modern sports and departmental cricket did not have any such thing. No one will come to see Police team playing because of the tainted image of the department.
And in this situation departmental outfits don’t have commercial value. The debate on departments’ public perception is a different story, but no doubt, their image is quite tarnished.
It is also a fact that development of sports is neither the core objective of departments, nor it should be as their basic motivation and aims are totally different. Departments like WAPDA, Railways, Police and PIA have been established for the specific tasks, certainly not to develop sports.
Yes, there is no harm in doing so with a notion of promoting health values within the organization and society. But there is no way that government departments can or should play a leading role in sports development in the country.
In case of cricket, is it the right way to eliminate the sport from the departments with a single stroke while they have spent huge money on cricket in specific and other sports in general. On the other hand, departments administer sports activities in a planned and organised way.
Jobs in these departments have kept players alive. The regional associations are not capable to handle their teams in the most professional way.
I don’t say that promoting sports on regional basis is not good but the way it is being implemented is incorrect.
Another important angle of the matter is that clubs are the basics of any sport. If they are ignored, nothing can be achieved. Development is not just to give an opportunity to talented players to surge to the next level. It is actually growing the game, grooming the players and designing and implementing a tool for real, genuine development at club level where a player gets his first introduction with the sport in practical.
Associations are basically the administrative bodies. Their role should only be limited to facilitate and educate the clubs, which are the natural and organic entities already carrying a strong regional feel.
Clubs are alive like a human while associations are mere bodies.
Ignoring club development will not bring any strength to the relevant sport.
Instead of closing departments, they should be given the task to convert their respective sports disciplines into a money-earning entities.
Here, the tailor-made club development strategy adopted by FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) can be adopted which will transform departments into productive modern clubs.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s asking departments for sponsoring domestic cricket teams does not seem a shrewd step as sponsorship is purely a commercial subject with departments knowing nothing about that and about their returns.
The PM, instead of abolishing departmental cricket, should enable departments to generate revenues through their cricket outfits. They should be given three to five years to strengthen their governance and marketing and to achieve sustainable growth without any more state input.
The writer is Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Ex-Head League, Club Development and Media.