Comment: Govt needs to review cash rewards policy for sportspersons

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THE handsome cash awards of Rs10 million doled out by ex-Prime Minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif to each member of the national cricket team, to the chief selector and others for doing Pakistan proud in the ICC Champions Trophy at London has received mixed response from the experts as well as people from different walks of life.

The issue is being debated on television channels and in the print media by former cricketers, organisers, anchors and journalists as some of them are supporting it while the others are opposing the trend.

The presentation of awards, both in cash and kind by the government, is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan.

The trend was initially set when Pakistan hockey team won its first Olympic gold medal at Rome in 1960. “Each member of the victorious Rome Olympics hockey team was awarded 32 acres of land in Shikarpur, Sindh,” former Olympian and a member of the gold medal-winning team Abdul Waheed Khan told Dawn.

“The trend of one-step promotion in Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Customs and financial institutions started in 1978 after the Pakistan hockey team won the World Cup at Buenos Aires,” recalled Waheed who managed the team then which was led by Islahuddin.

Former Olympian Jahangir Butt also informed that the government presented every member of the 1968 Mexico Olympics gold medal-winning team 25 acres of agriculture land plus Rs10,000 apiece. Jahangir was a member of that team in Mexico.

According to another former Olympian Ayaz Mahmood, who was part of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics gold medal winning team, the government awarded 500 yards residential plots to all team members in Islamabad after the triumph.

Unfortunately, after the announcement, the players had to wait for nearly four years to get their allotment letters from President Zia-ul-Haq in Islamabad. The 1988 Seoul Olympics-bound hockey team was also invited at the reception to motivate them for the mega event.

In cricket, all members of the 1992 World Cup winning Pakistan team were awarded 500 square yards residential plots in Islamabad.

As far as squash is concerned, legendary players Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan earned several promotions in PIA for their heroics.

The 10-time British Open champion Jahangir, who joined PIA as a colt in 1978, was promoted to Group VI after sometime by retired Air Marshal Nur Khan. Later, successors of Nur Khan promoted the legendary player as he reached Group IX (General Manager) when he decided left the national carrier.

On the other hand, the seven-time World Open champion Jansher joined PIA in Group VI and when he left he was also in the Group IX (General Manager).

Former PBSF chairman and a veteran official Asghar Valika recalled that cueist Mohammad Yousuf, who reached the zenith of his career when he won the Snooker World Cup at Johannesburg in 1994, was awarded 500 square yards residential plot by the government in Islamabad, thanks to late prime minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

When Mohammad Asif emulated Yousuf’s feat by winning the world title at Sofia, Bulgaria, in 2012, he got richer by approximately Rs10 million, both in cash and kind, courtesy government and the private sector. This is besides getting employment in the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) sports department, according to information provided by former PBSF chief Alamgir Shaikh.

The money included Rs two million given by sports philanthropist Nadeem Omar to Asif for playing professional circuit in England. however, the talented cueist for some reason stayed away from the circuit which left a big question mark over his career besides closing the doors for others.

Hamza Akbar, meanwhile, received Rs 2 million from the government in piecemeal after he won the Asian snooker title at Kuala Lumpur on April 30, 2015, thanks to the concerted efforts of Shaikh.

Akbar’s triumph was no mean achievement as he subdued Indian supremo Pankaj Advani by 7-6 frames in the final that went full distance.

In another incident of rewarding the sportsmen, former president Pervaiz Musharraf drove all the way to the KPT Sports Complex in Lyari on May 23, 2003, to present a cheque of Rs4.5 million to prolific pugilist Mehrullah Lassi for winning gold medal in featherweight at the 2002 Busan Asian Games.

Contrary to Lassi, another prominent boxer Syed Hussain Shah who did Pakistan proud by capturing a bronze in the middleweight category at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, left the country for Japan in disgust to turn pro owing to the step-motherly treatment by the government for not acknowledging his feat.

The celebrity boxer had repeatedly telephoned Dawn sports and lodged complaints for government’s apathy.

Meanwhile, many national sports federations have expressed their reservations on the cash award policy of the government to the recipients of gold, silver and bronze medals in the global competitions.

The policy envisaged Rs10 million for gold medal winner in Olympics, World Cup and Asian Games, Rs5 million for silver medalists and Rs3 million for the bronze medalists.

However, on the other hand, the Indian government has fixed Rs1.5 million for gold, Rs1 million for silver and Rs0.5 million for bronze, sources here confirmed to Dawn. Though the amount sounds meagre, it doesn’t come as a financial burden to the government and the players receive it timely too.

The presentation of Rs10 million to cricketers, especially to the chief selector, by the prime minister has perturbed the other sports federations including the hockey federation and the demoralised athletes from other sports who are finding it difficult to make a viable career out of their disciplines.

It is high time the government reviewed its policy of cash rewards to strike a balance among the other sports apart from cricket and raise the morale of athletes of other disciplines to make whole-hearted efforts to bring more laurels for their country.

The Olympics, the Asian and the Commonwealth Games take place every four years whereas many other events are held annually. A couple of other events like Asian Beach Games, Youth Games and the Asian Martial Arts Games have also been introduced over the years.

It is quite shameful that Pakistan’s highly talented cueist Mohammad Naseem Akhtar, who scaled new heights by capturing the world under-18 snooker title at Beijing on July 11, has not received a penny yet from either the government or the PBSF while the private sector is also yet to announce a cash reward for the youngster for his fabulous achievement.

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