IIt is impossible to understand contemporary societies and cultures without recognizing the place of sport. The situation becomes complicated in societies like ours, where sports are considered a waste of time. Cricket dominates the national sports scene as a mono sport.
The social and commercial power of sport makes it a hugely influential force in the modern world, for good and for ill. It can be a tool of dictatorship and also a symbol of democratic change. Almost every government around the world commits public resources to developing sports infrastructure due to its health, commercial, political, social and human benefits.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is a stark example where the government of Qatar recognized the perceived benefits of not only putting huge financial resources into developing eight giant football stadiums, but choreographed the entire event from Hayya Hayya, the official soundtrack, to its closing ceremony for 32 teams from The best football teams in the world in a way that makes Qatar stand out as a new social and commercial hub of the world.
The FIFA World Cup 2022 is not only an action-packed display of football skills, but also a showcase of competing notions of identity.
Over the decades, thanks to the efforts of the authorities, cricket has become a force following religion in Pakistan.
Not only do sports channels televise cricket for days, but news channels cover cricket in their regular broadcasts and morning shows for a long period of broadcast.
Social historians raise questions about the nature of sport and its place in societies. How and why people build a particular form of sport, how it travels around the world, and what it means to different groups of people.
For an understanding of the development of sport in the Indian subcontinent, Ramchandra Guha’s book A Corner in a Foreign Field: The Indian History of British Sport is an excellent read. Guha notes the commercialization of modern cricket and analyzes cricket as a microcosm of the fissures and tensions within sub-continental societies.
Another interesting book in this regard is CLR James’ Beyond a Boundary. It describes the relationship between sport and Caribbean society during the 1950s and 1960s. In his book, James presents cricket as a sport and a metaphor, belonging to the colonized and the colonised.
A sports sociologist once said of Swedish society: “Nothing awakens the Swedish national feeling so easily and powerfully as sporting success. Glorious history, royalty, a splendid army, democracy and the welfare system, old ideas and traditions, Volvo and other great corporations, none of these things can To live up to sport in providing bonds of national solidarity or in creating collective awareness for your country.”
All of this is possible when sports become an integral part of society and are not seen as employment or merely as an extracurricular activity by a few in isolation. Sport clearly helps the process of national reconciliation, providing a safety valve for the emotional energy of frustrated people. Sports, if understood and applied in the process of social development, helps in building national and national identity.
The Labor Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Harold Wilson, made major political achievements from England’s soccer victory in the 1966 World Cup.
In the 1970s, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania often observed that developing nations could easily bridge the gaps between national and global recognition with the help of sports.
During the 1980s, the leaders of the ANC in South Africa were somewhat similar to those of Pakistan. ANC leaders believed little in the power of sport, often saying that “one cannot do normal sport in an abnormal society”.
In the early 1990s, President Mandela, who changed South African society with the help of sports in the post-apartheid era, came along.
Pakistan also had opportunities in the recent past when an athlete turned politician took charge of the country. But he couldn’t exploit his potential.
A monogamous sports culture has its drawbacks and limitations for countries with large youth populations. Most countries divide their sports seasons into different regions. USA, UK and Australia have quarter seasons spread throughout the year for sports with global appeal such as football, basketball, baseball, rugby and tennis. Every sport has its symbols, which have a seasonal life, and though they are dinner athletes, they never grow larger than the game.
In our case, there is only one sport that has grown larger than the community and has swallowed the entire national sports paradigm. Unfortunately, field hockey, once a popular national sport, died a slow death due to PHF’s inability to market its product.
Combined with poor vision and drive, we failed to invest in grassroots track and field, swimming and gymnastics which led to the growth of sports such as cricket where the chance factor dominates over skill and fitness.
Pakistan has a large youth population base. With the right vision, marketing strategies, and development priorities paired with media support, many sports and games have the potential to grow and produce social icons worthy of recognition.
We hope that policymakers and the national media will sit down together to help potential athletes and federations develop other sports so that young people have more opportunities to show their abilities and grow as local, national and international champions.