Physical activity and sports are critical to the growth and development of youth. The 2017 United Nations Human Development Report for Pakistan, however, portrays a sad story about the Pakistani youth and their involvement in social and civic activities.
Based on the 2015 Youth Perception Survey, “of 7,000 odd youth surveyed, when asked about access to recreational facilities and events, 78.6 per cent said they had no access to parks, 94.5pc had no access to a library, 97.2pc had not been to a live music event, 93.9pc had not been to a sports event, 93pc did not have access to any sports facilities, 97pc had not been to a cinema — and 71.7pc reported that they did not have access to or attend any of the above activities or events.”
According to a column in Dawn, it appears that Pakistan has gone backwards in this arena as well. During the 1980s, “more than three decades ago, we had regular physical education sessions and had sports in our school: cricket, hockey and football in particular, but also table tennis and a couple of other sports. There were regular inter-class tournaments, and the school teams participated in inter-school tournaments. More than the school though, our neighbourhood had lots of children, and we used to have teams for almost everything. Some of the teams were even organised as clubs. We attended different schools, were part of different social and economic groups, but we played together and played almost any sport we could get excited about. When the Pakistan team played cricket, we all played cricket. When Pakistan used to win hockey tournaments, we would all catch hockey fever. We used to play cricket or hockey almost every evening, and matches were played on the weekends. The experiences of my friends, of around the same age group, is also similar.”
Further, “even elite schools do not seem to give the same importance to sports that they once did. We hardly ever hear of inter-school tournaments now. Even at the college and university level, sports have lost some of their importance. When Government College used to play Islamia College at cricket, it used to be quite an event in Lahore. We do not hear about such matches anymore. At a recent public event, Najam Sethi also lamented the demise of school-based sports activities. He also linked Pakistan’s poor performance in sporting events at different levels to the demise of school and college level sporting activity. Schools used to be nurseries for cultivating cricket talent. They are no longer so. Colleges and universities, at one point, were producing players who would go on to make their name on the international stage. This does not happen anymore.”
Finally, “the issue is not just about sporting performance. It is much deeper and broader. Sports are activities that not only shape the body, they shape the mind as well as the community. People learn to work, play and interact with each other through communal activities. They learn how to perform individually as well as collectively, as members of a team. They learn how to cooperate and how to compete. A lot of this is about citizenship. Sports can be an important element of education, and an effective and meaningful way for engaging our youth. But, for this to happen, we have to start thinking locally again. Schools have to become the hub for supporting sporting activities. Local governments and communities have to step forward to provide the needed support. Resources are important, but, the willingness and ability to organise is even more essential than money. Local governments have to create spaces (grounds, tracks, courts, etc) but these need to be managed by schools and/or local groups.”