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The cash bonanza for players in the wake of the recent Champions Trophy heroics came as no surprise. What did come as a surprise was the legal challenge filed against it. The petition perhaps needs to be seen in the broader context where anything that could be challenged actually gets challenged. From wide-scale investigations right down to the minutiae — like who saluted whom and why — just about everything is questioned.

Away from all such issues, the point is simple. It should not happen — the rewards, that is. But it has been happening for so long that it is now almost a sin, an act of criminal indifference not to do it for someone in power. It does not matter one bit who is in power at any given time.

Sociologists will tell you that it is in our cultural genes. From the Mughal kings who were whimsical in granting just about anything to those who impressed them — even if it was with a dance move — to the British helmsmen of the East India Company who granted favours, titles and land to show their pleasure, and then down to the litany of Nawabs and Khans, rewards have been doled out on the basis of whim and fancy, with logic mostly being a silent bystander.

The whole system of rewarding individuals at the cost of institutions is a malaise but it is so well-entrenched that it’s considered unfair not to do so

Sports as a domain of the social spectrum has been no different. Just remember the glory days of Pakistan hockey. The players were rewarded, and rewarded handsomely. Let’s turn to Islahuddin who in his biography has narrated an incident in the wake of the victory at the 1978 World Cup held in Argentina.

Soon after the match was over and the team had returned to the hotel, a call came from Gen Ziaul Haq, the then president. In the words of Islah, “He asked us to get back without any delay. ‘Not just the nation, but awards and rewards are waiting for you to return. I want you back quickly’,” he said.

At a meet-and-greet session on the team’s return, the players raised the issue of plots and awards for the entire contingent. “He listened patiently, looked up, smiled and said, ‘Granted on behalf of the nation, and granted with great delight!’”

Continues Islah: “On his orders, his staff immediately took down the names of all concerned and assured us that things would get moving without delay. Even the locality and the size of the plots were settled there and then; each of us was to get a plot of land worth 1,000 square yards in KDA Scheme in Karachi.”

The general asked Islah how he planned to build a house on such a large piece of land, wondering that the players would actually sell the plots. Islah’s reply is reflective of the trend. “The Asian Games are just months away. We will win that as well and the cash award from you will be good enough to take care of those worries!” The general had a good laugh, he recalls in the biography.

So, you see, we keep granting ‘with great delight’ and we do it ‘on behalf of the nation.’ Be it the fabled last-ball six or the ‘cornered tiger’ episode, we go big in dole-outs. The only difference between the hockey players and cricketers is the simple fact that the former are not paid to do the job. Logically, when someone is paid, they are supposed to do the job right every single time. The government pays the policemen to do a certain job, but still rewards individuals with out-of-turn promotions and cash awards for, say, some act of courage, which, logically speaking, should only have been expected of a policeman. But, as already said, it is all reflective of a cultural malaise. And, yes, it is a malaise.

The Asian Games are just months away. We will win that as well and the cash award from you will be good enough to take care of those worries!”

Away from the entire controversy about the affair (like, who should get and who shouldn’t; who should get how much; and so on), just imagine what a couple of hundred million rupees could have done for sports at large. Hockey, the national game, is dying because of lack of resources as it fails to find sponsors and the government does not have the money to step in. Sad. No?

But forget hockey, even cricket at the domestic level could have done so much with all that moolah. In the ongoing spat between the Australian players and the administration over financial payouts, captain Steven Smith hit the right note when he explained why he was putting his own career on the line for the sake of those playing the game at the domestic level. When he was shunted out of the national team, he said, it was only the tough competition at the domestic level that allowed him to improve and regain his spot. Dry up the fiscal supply line to the grassroots and you will soon have nothing to celebrate at the international level.

At our end, it is, and has always been, different. We reward the individuals and ignore the institutions that produce those very individuals.

It doesn’t make sense, but it’s a cultural thing, you know.

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 16th, 2017