Quetta: The week long sports festival in Quetta that ended on March 29 brought much-needed activity and distraction from the troubles of Balochistan but absent from it were games representing the local Baloch and Pashtun people, say sports enthusiasts.

“We have cultural games and sports in Baluchistan like buzkashi, wrestling, chauk, horseracing and target-shooting but the Sports Department has been not including these games in the festival for the last three years,” said Ahsan Khan, a spectator at the festival. “There will be much more interest on part of people if the festival showcases their culture by bringing in these games. It will also go a long way in promoting our cultural sports that are dying because of lack of official patronage.”

While annual sports events like the Balochistan Sports Festival are great to inculcate a spirit of sports and competition, said Ahmad, there is a bigger, more immediate need to promote sports as an activity intrinsic to the society. More so in Balochistan where years of insurgency and militancy has sapped people of life and hope.

Once an annual feature, the sports festival in Quetta was on a hiatus due to the long years of turmoil in the province that peaked in the wake of death of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, chief of the Bugti tribe. Bugti was killed in a military operation in 2006.

“On one hand, people are stressed and disturbed due to incidents of terror and on the other hand there is absence of playgrounds and sports to keep people healthy,” said Ahmad. “Societies that have playgrounds and sports as everyday activity have people that are mentally and physically healthy.They can play a significant role in every walk of life because they are active mentally and physically.”

It is for this reason that the state and the society need to look beyond festivals, he says, making sports a part of culture and providing opportunities to sportsmen to test their talent and abilities through competition.

“Making festivals truly representative of culture and promoting these nationally could help generate revenues,” said Ahmad.

For the last three years, the provincial government in Balochistan has been holding the sports festival in collaboration with Pakistan army in the month of March, starting on the first day of spring or nauroz. This year the festival was held between March 22 and March 29, with some 2,700 players participating in 29 sports activities.

According to Nazar Hussain, Additional Secretary Sports for Baluchistan, the provincial government has spent PKR 134 million on organizing the Balochistan Sports Festival.

“To encourage players to participate and to facilitate them,” Hussain told News Lens, “the government has increased allowance for players from PKR 10,000 to 50,000.”

He said organizing sports festivals in different divisions of the province was meant to promote healthy activities and provide entertainment to the people.

“The festival included a night of music where famous singers from different parts of the country were invited to showcase their talent and entertain the people of Baluchistan,” said Hussain.

Teams competing in the festival selected on the basis of merit, said Nazar, after arranging tournaments in different games at the level of districts. “Only those teams who make it to finals at the divisional level can participate in the sports festival.”

The festival included 29 sporting events with matches in football, cricket, hockey, cycling, chess, squash, boxing, badminton and others.

However, certain players at the festival thought that political interference marred the selection process, queering the pitch for talented players.

“Only players who have political influence they been selected for festival,” said Bayazeed Khan, a player on the Muslimbagh district football team. “The government should end corruption and conduct the selection process under a non-partisan committee for every division. The committee should allow opportunity for participation to only those who deserve it.”

In a province where poverty is rampant, said Khan, only those who can afford the wherewithal of sports such as equipment, coaching and membership with local sports associations can compete in sports.

“The poor but talented players cannot take part in sports because of poverty,” Khan told News Lens Pakistan. “The government should provide safe environment and patronage to veteran players to pull them out of poverty.”

Moreover, with only one sports ground for 2700 players and more than 29 events, not all players can participate due to the short time allocated to different games. “We have four big grounds in the Ayub Stadium [in Quetta] that the government should open up to competing teams and games for everyone to participate and enjoy.”

However for a spectator like Tahir Mandokel, the festival means more than just promotion of healthy activities and competition. It brings a sense of normalcy and peace in a province where people have lived on the edge for a long time.

“We are thankful to the government of Baluchistan to organize such a tremendous festival,” said Mandokhel. “As the spring starts, neighbouring countries like Iran, Afghanistan, India and Turkey celebrate nauroz. The festival comes at the right time, affording us the opportunity to enjoy various games in a beautiful season.”

According to Mandokhel, only sports have the appeal to bring people of various sects, religions, cultures, and races together.

“If we use sports and entertainment to bring peace, prosperity and development, it can truly bring a positive change in the society,” he said. “Sports have the potential to strengthen social networks, spread happiness and create enthusiasm among the people, no matter where they come from. Youth interested in playing and following games can escape unhealthy activities like crime and drugs.”


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