Departmental sports

The ban was initially imposed as part of Imran’s efforts to reform domestic sports systems

August 27, 2022


The government’s removal of the ban on departmental sports — imposed by ex-PM Imran Khan — generated immediate buzz in sporting circles, although political affiliations appeared to shape many people’s public comments. The ban was initially imposed as part of Imran’s efforts to reform domestic sports systems. Contrary to some critics’ claims, it did not call for an outright reduction in funding, but instead for the departments to start funding regional sports bodies instead. The hope was that beyond improving quality, this would improve fan support and attendance at sporting events. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done. Little, if any, money was actually transferred, and the departments were all reluctant to sack their athlete-employees. Meanwhile, one of the major benefits of the departmental system was that it gave athletes ‘real’ jobs that they could return to in the off-season or when their playing careers ended. This is especially important for good athletes who fail to reach the highest level of their sport and need to earn to live after their athletic careers are over. In fact, this is even true for top athletes in less lucrative sports, as great sporting success may not necessarily be accompanied by great wealth.

It is worth noting that cricket is probably the only sport where athletes can make relatively good amounts of money even if they don’t make it to national team level, and even this is a relatively recent phenomenon. That is why even cricket players and administrators felt let down by former PIA player Imran’s decision to abolish departmental cricket. That said, Imran’s goal still makes sense, if only restricted to cricket. The new money flowing into the game, especially due to domestic T20 cricket, could help eliminate the need for departmental cricket over time, as long as the approach is transitional. But for athletes such as star javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem, the lack of money in regional sports would probably have led him to quit well before he managed to become the first Pakistani to qualify for an Olympic track and field event.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2022.

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