Mitigating COVID-19 effects on sports: Rs26bn ambitious development package for KP unveiled

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By Fakhar Alam 

PESHAWAR, Jul 28 (APP):Witnessing the brunt of adverse effects of coronavirus lockdown since March this year, the sports sector has gradually started revival after launching of the historic Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Chief Minister Sustainable Sports Development (SSD) Programme worth Rs26billion aimed at  strengthening sports infrastructure, constructing new stadiums and provide much-needed financial assistance to all talented athletes and coaches across the province.
The multifaceted development programme has been launched after coronavirus pandemic hit sports sector hard in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where sports stadiums, playgrounds, golf courses, tennis courts, gymenism, fitness centres, complexes and coaching academies from DI Khan to Chitral districts were closed for the last five months by restricting athletes to home.
As a result of the pandemic, KP Under-21 Games and talents hunt events were postponed and coaching programmes for athletes halted.
Latifur Rehman, Assistant Director, Sports, Tourism, Archaeology and Youth Affairs Department told APP that an ambitious SSD Programme has recently been launched by the Chief Minister KP under which Rs26 billion would be spent on sports’ projects focusing on strengthening of infrastructure, provision of financial assistance to medal winners of all indoor and outdoor games in mega events and construction of sports stadiums at tehsil and union council level across the province in line with the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“Financial assistance has been started to all medal winners of 33rd National Games hailing from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a sports loving province of Pakistan that produced so many legends such as Shahid Khan Afridi and Younas Khan in cricket, Jehangir Khan and Jansher Khan in Squash, Qazi Mohib and Rahim Khan in Hockey.”
He said Rs15,000 was being provided to gold, Rs10,000 for silver and Rs7,500 for bronze medal winners for 18 months. 
Latifur Rehman said more than 100 athletes belonging to different districts of the province were benefiting from the financial package.
The coronavirus lockdown has also affected coaching fretarnity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Government has taken a principled decision to continue their financial support despite closure of sports facilities.
The official said the coaching fraternity would not be left alone in this time of need and 30 coaches employed on a contingency basis continued to be paid irrespective of closure of sports facilities in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.He informed that hundreds of fitness and gyms centres besides academies either owned by sports associations, private organizations or individuals would soon be reopened in phased manner under strict SOPs.
He admitted that closure of professional academies and stadiums across the province due to coronavirus had deprived thousands of athletes from professional training and physical development beside depriving most owners of academies and gyms either owned by sports associations or private individuals of their sources of income.Various talent hunt programmes were postponed and Under 21-Games stalled for safety of players, organizers and spectators after a surge in coronavirus cases in March in the province, he maintained.
“The lockdown has delayed fast moving projects  of the financial year 2019-20 besides badly impacting the overhauling work of Arbab Niaz International Cricket Stadium in Peshawar.”
To renovate and expand Arbab Niaz cricket stadium established in 1984, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government has allocated Rs440 million in budget 2020-21 besides Rs330 million for construction of 1,000 sports facilities and Rs1.9billion for establishment of playgrounds and sports stadiums.Arbab Niaz stadium would be completely reshaped in the style of Dubai cricket stadium and be equipped with all modern facilities including cricket enclosures, dressing rooms, media galleries, floodlights and a hostel for players where national and international matches in all formats would be played including PSL in future.
The stadium’s accommodation capacity would be increased from existing 14,000 to 35,000 spectators following which it would be the second-largest stadium of Pakistan after Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore.
Renovation work was scheduled to be completed by December this year but the project was likely to be extended due to waste of time because of COVID-19. 
He said 350 kanal land in Regi Model Town was recently handed over by Peshawar Development Authority (PDA) to Directorate of Sports for development of sports facilities there.
“We have prepared inclusive recommendations and SOPs for reopening of sports facilities and the same was shared with high authorities for consideration,” he said.Latifur Rehman said a three tier framework for reopening of sports facilities has been prepared under which solo training, aerobics, agility and skills trainings to players would be provided in first phase with a recommendation of its immediate reopening so that necessary training could be provided to athletes for upcoming sports events.
In the second phase, sports facilities for imparting full training to all team members were likely to be opened after Eidul Azha.In the third phase, competition events would be organized after detailed assessment of hotspots in a month.
It would be mandatory for all players and organizers of academies at sports complexes to use masks and gloves, ensure provision of hands sanitizers at entrance of academies and maintain social distancing especially for professional athletes participating in sports events in near future.However, outdoor facilities at these sports complexes such as walking tracks and jogging may be reopened for all players on priority basis, he added.
Latifur Rehman said SOPs for all outdoor and indoor games were prepared and would be implemented through relevant authorities after Government’s approval, adding sports academies, gyms and centers found guilty of SOPs’ violations would be sealed.