KARACHI was known for its sportsmen in the early years of Pakistan; whenever cricketers, hockey players and squash players were talked about, most of them hailed from the largest city of the country.
But not anymore, and merit and favouritism have nothing to do with it — the city administrators are to be blamed for the decline in sports activities. The kids who used to play in streets or nearby grounds had a dream of making it big. But in Karachi that dream has become a nightmare if you are into cricket, hockey or football.
In a city that was known for its grounds, parks and sports complexes, Karachi now paints a different picture. Many might agree that in the fast-paced world of today, people don’t have time for recreational activities. But has anyone thought that the unavailability of grounds, parks and sports complexes is one of the reasons people don’t have time for recreational activities? Most sports grounds, including the city’s premier Test centre — the National Stadium — where the Pakistan cricket team had an unbeaten run in Test cricket for more than four decades, have now turned into marriage halls. However first-class cricket matches are still played at this venue in the absence of international cricket.
Similarly, other grounds in the city where sportsmen went to hone their skills are now more known for fixing matches — the ones that are made in heaven and solemnised on Earth. Yes, being a marriage lawn was nothing new for the KMC Sports Complex on Kashmir Road. But in the ’80s and ’90s its basketball court was the place to hang out, where people actually played basketball, or even a bit of football. The court is still there but the youngsters don’t use it that much. Perhaps this decline has more to do with the emergence of video games and gaming zones that has also hit cricket and hockey badly.
The ‘one-unit’ schools, colleges and even universities are also to be blamed for not encouraging sports as they mint money, but don’t have proper grounds. When you don’t have proper infrastructure for sports, you don’t nurture sportsmen and that has exactly been Karachi’s dilemma. The parents who can afford to send their kids to academies with grounds and facilities have nothing to worry about, but what about those who find it hard to make both ends meet? Their kids, no matter how much potential talent they have, can never hone it on the field due to lack of opportunities.
The grounds that used to be free and the parks that didn’t charge a dime are now unfortunately safe havens for drug addicts who take refuge in them at night. That leaves the city’s squash complexes that are either built on grabbed land or are inside expensive clubs with huge membership fees; is this exclusivism one of the reasons why we haven’t been able to produce another Jahangir Khan since the great athlete’s retirement?
Lastly, the law and order situation hasn’t helped sports in the city either, and that’s one of the reasons why snooker has emerged as one of the most popular games in the city. It is played indoors on a table, doesn’t require a ground and maintenance, is more a mental than physical sport and isn’t as expensive as other games. Pakistan’s success at international snooker has also helped in making the game popular in the metropolis.
Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2015