The missing sports economy in Pakistan

APART from being a tool for societal and cultural development, sports are an important element of economic growth in the modern world. In 2023, the global sports economy revenue mounted to nearly $512 billion and is expected to be worth over $623 billion in 2027. Developed states are generating immense revenue, stretching the scope of foreign direct investment (FDI) by providing an ideal environment for the sports ecosystem.
In Pakistan, the multi-faceted opportunities related to the sports sector remained untapped due to the lack of a strategic approach. The sports ecosystem remains dysfunctional owing to fundamental flaws in marketing, manufacturing and sales, and governance and organization in the sector. Although the government’s National Sports Policy 2022-27 is a key step to stage a renaissance in the country’s sporting landscape, it lacks commercialization and financial elements to encourage corporate investments.

The sports economy offers rich dividends in different segments as it can be a catalyst for the revitalization of other sectors. The global economic architecture has created strong linkages between sports and the economy. According to the S&P Global Market Intelligence report, the successful hosting of the FIFA World Cup boosted Qatar’s economy to grow by 8 percent on an annual basis in the fourth quarter of last year. Similarly, in Pakistan’s case, the Pakistan Super League helped in the revival of local industries linked to cricket, including the hospitality industry.

The development of sports leagues can be an antidote to Pakistan’s economic downturn. However, a one-dimensional focus on cricket is not helping the sports landscape in Pakistan. Pakistan’s footprints are nonexistent in sports like football, with greater economic prospects. Pakistan’s immense youth bulge possesses talent but due to the lack of infrastructure, the government fails to incubate the raw talent with the required skill sets. Currently, global sovereign funds are investing heavily in football leagues and players. With a human resource of 240 million people, Pakistan can capitalize on global economic trends in this sector. Moreover, Pakistan needs to diversify its sports economic strategy by investing in niche sports. Globally, the economic value of niche sports is under-utilized.
Pakistan is blessed with a geographical landscape that is ideal for extreme sports and adventure tourism. Pakistan is home to the world’s five highest mountain peaks and has much to offer to mountaineering enthusiasts. Similarly, the Sarfaranga Cold Desert Rally in Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region can push Pakistan into the global landscape of tourism. However, the lack of decisive policymaking, proper infrastructure, and health and security concerns remain major obstacles to implementing these innovative strategies which can help put Pakistan on the map globally.
The corrective measures in Pakistan’s sports economy can have a multiplier effect on Pakistan’s sports goods and apparel manufacturing industry. Pakistan is annually exporting $1 billion worth of sports goods but footballs alone make half of the contribution. Through diversification, Pakistan can generate a comparative advantage and can open new avenues for economic growth and development.

Considering the commercial value of sports, Pakistan can get a greater return on investment by implementing strategies entrenched in an entrepreneurial approach. However, to engage corporate houses in sports, the government needs to facilitate investment mobility. Moreover, the government needs to encourage the development of sports venues and infrastructure through public-private partnerships.
The sports industry in Pakistan can play a vital role in the country’s economic structure; however, Pakistan has to undertake required structural and institutional reforms in its sports board infrastructure. Considering that the global sports industry is dynamic, continuously evolving, and steadily growing, Pakistan has to work on an upgraded plan based on investing in community-based sports programs (CBS) to ensure far-reaching social change and economic impact. The young people will get opportunities to become professionals in sports. Moreover, such steps will build a conducive environment for positive economic transition at macro and micro levels.
—The writer, a PhD, is an Associate Senior Researcher at the Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS), Lahore, Pakistan.

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views expressed are writer’s own.