An event can change the destiny. If 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team in Lahore has spelt good bye for cricket from Pakistan, success of the recent Pakistan Super League final in the same city can serve as the catalyst to uplift the gloom from sporting scenario in the country.
The testimony to the fact are two sporting news emerging close on the heels of the trouble free, highly attended PSL final. First the announcement of a WWE-like multi-city, multi-star wrestling event and Brazilian legend footballer Ronaldinho’s announcement of his plans to visit Pakistan for giving football fans plenty of reason to celebrate.
After the PSL success, Pakistan Cricket Board has has announced that it was now launching the Pakistan Cup. The tournament will start off from April 11 and the final will be played at Lahore on May 5. Liike PSL, five teams will battle it out for the national title. The teams include Balochistan, Federal, KPK, Sindh and Punjab.
The Pakistani firm Pro Wrestling Entertainment had worked for a year to persuade fighters to come to Pakistan, which has been largely deserted by international sports stars during its fight against militancy lasting more than a decade. However, one successful made it happen in a few days for which firm was working for months.
Once security concerns are addressed, sponsors, infrastructure and a strong fan base are the factor that weigh heavily in favour of Pakistan. The telco sector majors Telenor, Mobilink, Unfone and multinationals like Pepsico are starved of marketing opportunities. Habib Bank has been a traditional patron of sports in the country. Lahore, Quetta, Islamabad and Karachi are equipped with the state of the art infrastructure. These are also the safest places for the State to address security concerns. A generation of sport loving Pakistan fans is starved of quality action, ready to throng the stadias.
More than half of Pakistan’s TV-watching public tuned in for inaugural season of the PSL. Since the first ever PSL T20 competition was announced last September, the country’s cricket board has sold the five franchises for $US93 million and attracted players from 11 countries.
PSL is the best thing that has happened to Pakistan cricket in particular and for the sports in Pakistan in general over the past few years. Keep in mind that an entire generation of players and fans have emerged, who have never had the pleasure of witnessing live action on home turf. Unlike India where an event hardly finishes and the next one is ready to step in, Pakistani sports fan has been restricted to watching cricket or any other game just on television. It’s an irony that the likes of Misbah ul Haq, Umer Akmal, Wahab Riaz, Ahmed Shehzad and so many others have never played an international game in front of home fans for not fault of theirs.
With all the talk of security concerns, hosting of the PSL final in Lahore successfully has given Pakistan cricket in particular and all sports in general the much needed shot in the arm. Fans are delighted. So are the Pakistan sports authorities. Not to take away the political mileage the sitting government has achieved from this fanfare. This also lays the base to change the nation’s perception globally. To give a boost to sports not just on ground but also revive the sports industry.
It could be a bit premature to say but all signs are indicating that slowly and gradually Pakistan is managing to put trust in international bodies and convincing them that Pakistan is becoming safer for international teams. We have ICC World XI visiting in September and now the Wrestling event with top fighters ready to lock arms. All these are encouraging events and give a feeling of déjà vu amongst fans. On the commercial front, Pakistan sponsors haven’t had much to invest on in recent years, so they have to had their marketing budgets well stocked. No wonder that we saw all major brands spending lavishly during PSL, even the TV ratings TV ratings soared to new heights, giving sponsors good reason to invest and encourage more such events.
The market forces to have been deprived of good platforms to promote their brands. Everyone seems eager to jump in and increase their brand value. Now, with wrestling series coming in, sponsors are finding ventures beyond cricket to invest and reach out different targeted clients. With such a huge gap, finding healthy sponsorship won’t be a big problem for wrestling or other sports. Pakistan Hockey League too is contemplating to launch its own league. So all signs are encouraging to revive a healthy sports environment in Pakistan, something will also work as healing balm for a terror-struck nation.
As security improves, former WWE wrestlers are all set to rumble in Pakistan. Pakistan international wrestler Badshash Khan is promoting the image of the terror-affected nation with his motto “Pakistan Will Rise” and “Hum kissi se Kum Nahin”. He will be accompanying 20 former WWE wrestlers from Japan, United States, Canada and other countries. They are confirmed to showcase their talent in Pakistan during months of May and November. The competition will be held in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Islamabad.
(The writer is a Sports Columnist from Karachi)