While Pakistan isn’t exactly renowned for its sporting achievements, outside of cricket, its sports manufacturing and textile industries were mostly well regarded for producing some of sports’ most iconic kits and goods.
However, with economies of scale, and the ease of business access in China, local manufacturers have suffered significantly. Yet with the country’s population, geographic location and booming tech scene, an area that is waiting to be tapped into, is the Pakistani Sports technology scene or SportsTech startup scene.
In fact, according to a report by McKinsey & Co on the Pakistani ecosystem of the 720 startups across tech since 2010, 100 have raised funding.
And this is no surprise, considering Pakistani startups have seen some huge successes in recent years, with the likes of e-commerce brand, Daraz, acquired by the Alibaba group for an estimated $200m in 2018, the vehicle for hire and parcel delivery start-up, Bykea, receiving upward of $5.7 million in funding, and more recently Airlift, an app-based mass transit start-up, successfully raising over $24 million.
And while logistics, e-commerce and transport-based startups are very much solving key problems within a booming population in dire need of innovation around deliveries, commuting and transfer of goods, the Pakistani sports industry is due for a much-needed shakeup, and who better to lead the front than young techies, engineers and innovators across the nation.
Today, the vast majority of ‘SportsTech’ startups, if you can call them that, are the standard online sports-content generators sharing news, features and interviews, alongside YouTube-focused sports content producers.
But genuine SportsTech startups are far and few, with perhaps one of the few exceptions, being CrickFlex, a SportsTech startup that has seen some success on a global scale.
Venture-backed by the Ignite National Technology Fund (a government-backed non-for-profit) and its national incubation centre, CricFlex has generated a lot of buzz in the SportsTech world. Their wearable sleeve technology determines the legality of a bowler’s action, a much-needed technology that eases the process for umpires and enables players to better test and develop their abilities with the help of experts on the field itself.
And while this is the perfect example of an intersection between Pakistan’s manufacturing and technology industries, it is probably the first, on a national level to set a scene for the growth of SportsTech in Pakistan.
As mentioned, Pakistan’s most pressing issues do not exactly have to do with sports, but when and where do they?
A growing and innovative sports industry is beneficial for nations as a whole. It creates a soft image of the country and enables it to market itself better for everything from diplomacy to the economy, which is something Pakistan has been working on significantly over the last couple of years. It also allows for increased sports tourism, a rapidly growing industry and something that will become even more important with the return of sports to the country. And this goes all the way to the creation of jobs and the empowerment and improved health attitudes of individuals within sports.
Most importantly though, this shakeup can help reignite a failing and rather dull sports industry too. With innovations in VR and AR, young and grassroots athletes can be given opportunities to test their skills through their phones with people around the world, modern online-coaching platforms can help teams and organisations develop better mechanisms and structures to train athletes or enable athletes looking to reach the next level achieve world-class coaching digitally.
Similarly, sports-focused health technologies can assist athletes in dealing with the challenges of not earning a living through sports, overcoming injuries or dealing with poor outcomes in their sport of choice.
The opportunities are endless, and we have seen this across the border in India, where fantasy sports technology, Dream 11, raised over $100 million in funding and recently won the rights as title sponsor for the IPL.
But I would be lying if I didn’t say that current barriers to entry in the market and lack of foreign investment (integral for startups in the developing world) can result in a dud for Pakistan’s SportsTech industry.
However, with vast amounts of talent and ability, within technology and engineering, particularly amongst the youth, Pakistani innovators can become the next big thing in SportsTech. Though, it will very much come down to more support from the government, the private sector, foreign and domestic entrepreneurs, angels and venture capitalists willing to take a chance on revitalising a sports industry that needs somewhat of a lifeline.