Sports for Development and Peace-II
Sports are present in almost every society. Their popularity transcends political, national and ideological boundaries and their use for development and peace continues around the world. When 34 countries were invited by the Sports for Development and Peace International Working Group and asked to provide information on the steps they were taking towards the sport of peace and development, 69% of developing countries and 85% of developed ones reported that they were either using, or intended to use, sports in their national strategies for conflict-resolution and peace-building. Do we in Pakistan need this idea?
When we put this question before Dr Zahid Shahab Ahmed, a scholar affiliated with Australia’s Deakin University working in the domain of peace in Pakistan, he said, “Let’s first review some statistics related to Pakistan. Literacy rate in Pakistan is 59% and the rising unemployment ratio stands at around 4.5%. Millions of children are out of school and millions of youth are unemployed. I am not saying that illiterate and unemployed people can engage in terrorism but we have to protect them from the effects of extremist ideologies as well. Peace projects generally prioritize students in schools and universities. There is a need to provide opportunities to other youth so that they may engage in positive activities and resist extremist ideologies. Thus, Pakistan needs sports for peace. In fact, there are many examples of such projects in Pakistan. I will cite the example of the Shah Mehmood Peace Academy for Cricket in erstwhile FATA. The stated mission of this academy is to train young cricketers so as to prevent them from engaging in violent extremist activities.” Elaborating the notion of sports for development and peace, he said: “Sports for peace is an international movement that began with the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and it is now part of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There are many organizations that use sports in their social and humanitarian missions. Sports are considered a key factor in promoting peace and attracting youth to positive activities.”
Responding to the question as to what extent have terrorism and extremism affected sports in Pakistan, Dr Ahmad said, “We know that terrorism and extremism have affected sports in Pakistan not only at the national but also at the local level. Although there are limited sports opportunities for girls in different parts of the country, sports opportunities for boys are also limited due to various reasons such as lack of requisite facilities and financial resources. At the national level, we have seen that terrorism has badly affected Pakistan’s favourite sport, i.e. cricket. It has been more than a decade since the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009 but still there has been no significant international cricket in the country. However, it is encouraging that international cricket is being gradually revived not only through Pakistan Super League but also through bilateral series.”
When asked that how we can counter the ills of terrorism and extremism through sports, Dr Ahmad opined: “Although extremists exist and they try to spread their influence in Pakistan through their online and offline activities, it is important to know that they want to recruit only young people for their so-called endeavour. It is very easy for them to find a young person who is looking for a purpose in life. However, if we can attract young people to constructive activities such as sports, we will give them a positive purpose in life. Through the promotion of sports for peace activities, we will not only be providing our youth with opportunities to engage in positive activities of their choice, but will also be creating more awareness among them to resist extremist ideologies.”
Enumerating some examples of sports for development and peace in Pakistan, Dr Ahmad said, “The promotion of sports in erstwhile FATA is linked to sports for peace. The government acknowledges its importance and plans to promote such activities for the country’s youth. So far, Gwadar Cricket Stadium has been used, to some extent though, for this purpose. However, we will have to wait and see if the locals use this facility for different tournaments. It is very important to use this stadium for organizing various sports tournaments in Balochistan.”
What have been the socioeconomic implications of halt in international sports competitions in Pakistan in the past due to terrorist incidents and the restriction of sports activities in areas affected by terrorism and extremism in the country? In response to this question, Dr Ahmad said, “It is difficult to really estimate how terrorism has affected sports at the societal level in Pakistan. I think Pakistanis as a whole are disappointed with the country’s image in the international arena and also with how the country has been blamed for sponsoring terrorism. Although Pakistanis can watch the matches of Pakistan cricket team in Dubai on their TV screens, watching live cricket matches in their own country has its own charm. When youngsters go to the stadium to watch cricket, they too are motivated to become good players in the future. Unfortunately, for a decade, Pakistani youth did not get this opportunity because there was no international cricket happening in Pakistan. The same is true of other sports. Sports are very important for social development as they provide positive activities to young people from all walks of life and act as agents of social cohesion.”
Responding to the question related to the effects of Covid-19 on sports and social development and how to counter them, Dr Ahmad says, “Covid-19 pandemic has adversely impacted almost all social activities and sports too are no exception. We have seen how this pandemic has hampered the conduct of international tournaments in Pakistan. For example, when teams of Sri Lanka and South Africa visited Pakistan, some of them tested positive for Covid-19, leading to the suspension of Pakistan Super League. It has cost the Pakistan Cricket Board and the franchises millions of dollars. I think the effects of this pandemic will continue until countries make some arrangements for vaccinating their citizens.”
Dr Ahmed considers youth’s participation in sports a key factor in achieving peace and development. And, it is because an analysis of data from the US Census Bureau’s International Database suggests that 19% of Pakistan’s population is aged between 15 and 24 years as per the UN standard and this ratio is 27% as per the Commonwealth standard, i.e. between 15 and 29 years. In Pakistan, the Commonwealth-defined age group-based population is recognized as a young population. In addition, adolescents – aged between 10 and 19 years, as defined by the World Health Organization – constitute 21% of the country’s population. As much as 12% of Pakistan’s population consists of children aged 5 to 9 years. These are the groups of the population that must be physically and mentally healthy and have positive thinking.
Highlighting the effects of sports on the human psyche, Faria Rehman, a senior clinical psychologist and sports therapist said, “Regular physical activity keeps you physically fit and helps you stay fit. Whenever you do any physical activity, you immediately feel a mental and physical change as your brain releases a chemical that makes you feel happier and more relaxed. Organized sports activity provides psychological, social and economic benefits. When you engage in some recreational physical activity or play in a team, you completely forget the stresses and challenges of life. This temporary respite from stress can help you avoid negative thoughts. When you play or exercise, the body produces a chemical called endorphins which is a natural mood-booster and helps us fights our stress and depression. Sports and exercise help you to fall asleep early. When you are tired due to a physically activity, this chemical balances negative thoughts in your mind. This is why you get a good night’s sleep which improves your mood in the morning when you wake up and also improves your brain function.” Ms Faria added: “Sports create discipline in your personality which improves the functioning of your mind. When your life is in order, you become accustomed to doing every task at the right time. In this way, you get rid of lack of memory. Playing any physical or mental game creates a positive change in you and boosts your self-confidence. While playing a sport, you act according to the situation without any plan. This increases your self-confidence and decision-making power. In this way, confidence, calmness and peace of mind are created in your personality. If we want to have a civilized and cultured society, we have to promote all sorts of sports. If sports are promoted at local, regional, national and international levels, it will lead to better social relations between and among people of every class. Internationally, it has been observed that sport is not only a pastime but it also improves mental and physical health, enhances social cohesion and also contributes to the economic development of a region or a country. Economically, it has become an industry with which millions of people are attached, e.g. manufacturers of sports equipment, training camps and grounds, clubs, etc. If we promote the sports industry, it can alleviate unrest and chaos in the society.”
There is no denying the fact that the fear of terrorism and extremism in any society can be eradicated with the help of sports. The latest example of this is the CM Balochistan’s initiative of organizing the All Pakistan Chief Minister Balochistan Gold Cup Hockey Tournament in Quetta. Moreover, a cricket stadium has been set up in Gwadar. There is a need to expand the scope of this strategy to the grassroots level so that our young people, who are moving away from sports, can be brought back and prevented from becoming a part of any destructive activity. It is also important because Pakistan National Human Development Report 2017 states that out of 100 young people in the country, only 38 engage in healthy physical activities and play sports regularly, three play occasionally and 59 rarely. The main reason for this reluctance is the lack of playgrounds and other sports facilities in the country as well as a lack of maintenance of existing facilities and the low rate of public access to them. A glimpse into this precarious situation can be had from a report by the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) which says that “95 out of 161 primary schools in 85 districts of Pakistan have no playground.” In other words, around 59% of the schools under review were without playgrounds.
It is also a sad reality that many playgrounds have been illegally occupied by land mafia while some are being used to store construction material and equipment. There are a number of playgrounds in Lahore where construction material for various development projects was stored, but these grounds have not been revived in their original state even though years have passed since the completion of those projects. Moreover, although it is necessary to provide for parks in our rapidly expanding housing societies, the provision of a playground has been completely ignored. You would often find a signboard saying: “Playing cricket, hockey or football is prohibited in this park.” Then, where would the children and youth play? Motor vehicles running in the streets have also rendered them unsafe for playing sports.
“Sports are synonymous with values such as tolerance, respect and teamwork, and that is why terrorist groups try to hijack sports competitions. In today’s volatile world, sports are an important resort for most vulnerable people. Sports help children and adolescents develop their psychological and emotional strength to become better, more tolerant and respectable citizens. Sports equip them with the right tools to resist the propaganda of terrorism and overcome fears and anxieties created in the society due to terrorism and extremism,” says Dr Amjad Tufail, Associate Professor of Psychology, Government Islamia College, Railway Road, Lahore. He went on to say that when we ponder over human life and psyche, we find some factors that are integral part of these. Among them is aggression which is generally considered a negative thing. But such is not the case as this emotion has both positive and negative connotations on human life.
Dr Tufail further said, “On the positive side, it basically provides the energy needed to keep a person alive – called chi in Chinese philosophy. It gives man the opportunity to defend himself in times of trouble and trepidation. When you see it in conjunction with terrorism and extremism and other such negative activities in society, the picture becomes clear and suggests that sports basically channelize your aggression and provide you an opportunity to express this feeling in a gentle way. Psychologists believe that suppressing the human instincts or leaving them completely free does not improve human life. On the contrary, giving an opportunity to vent such feelings in a positive way contributes to better individual, collective and societal life. So you can say that when people are brought to popular sports, the atmosphere of fear prevailing in the society disappears. Instincts learn a polite way of expressing themselves. Man learns how to control his emotions and how to react best in an untoward situation. Thus, sports play a very fundamental role in our social life.”
Similarly, sociologist Ayesha Jahan Lodhi describes sports as a source of building societies and making them flourish. She says, “Sports are a key social institution as they combine all the features you find in any institution. While discussing the role of sports in modern societies, it is often said that sports form a continuous social experience wherein humans expand their capabilities, leading to accumulation of improved human capital. That is why Albert Einstein said: “Play is the highest form of research.” The sports system is directly linked to health, science, culture and education systems. Sports have a significant impact on the social, economic and political process of any modern society. In addition, they also affect our understanding of gender roles and their socio-economic affairs. It is due to this significance that the United Nations has declared them as a human right. They are used as a low-cost and high-impact tool in humanitarian, development and peace efforts. Sports, whether for recreational, professional or educational purposes, are not always meant for victory or physical well-being; rather they are an integral part of a prosperous and healthy society. Sports strengthen relationships and promote shared ideas of goodwill, sacrifice and hope. They help children develop better ways to cope with life’s ups and downs. Children also learn to lose while they are playing and it helps them avoid frustration and equips them with skills to deal with unpleasant experiences in life.”
The declining quality of sports in the country and the lack of facilities have made every conscious person deeply concerned and raise his voice to make relevant institutions take up remedial measures at the earliest so as to bring changes that would remove the shortcomings and obstacles in the way of proper functioning of sports institutions. The Pakistan Sports Board, Pakistan Olympic Association, national sports federations, provincial sports boards, associations, departments and educational institutions are the major sports-organizing agencies in the country. Personal likes and dislikes, kinship and the ‘sifarish’ culture have brought our sports to the point where we have nothing but to only be proud of our past. It is unfortunate that the educational institutions, which are thought to be the nurseries for sports, have stopped producing good players. If this situation prevails, how can we achieve the goal of peace and development? We need to find ways to stem the decline of sports and make up for the lack of facilities.
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