When it comes to corporate entities investing in sports in Pakistan, the only sport that is really enjoying such benefits is cricket. At the moment, cricket is enjoying a true resurgence in the country thanks to the keen involvement of some of the major brands who have invested heavily in franchises that fall under the banner of Pakistan Super League. It is a great initiative that is definitely going to help cricket grow in the country.
However, despite being hailed as a project that will give young cricketers a hope for the future, there is a general feeling within the country that these corporate entities have not really bothered about other sports, most notably football given the obvious talent the country has on disposal.
As things stand, Pakistan is facing isolation from the world footballing community due to its football federation’s inability to look at the bigger picture and cast aside petty issues that resulted in FIFA banning the country’s activities around the globe. It is a sad situation indeed when you see some really talented players in the national team not being able to showcase their true potential or further their development.
A few months back, Pakistan hosted two exhibition games in Karachi and Lahore, featuring the likes of former Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho and Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs. The two games saw amateur talent from Karachi, Lahore and Pakistan play alongside some of the biggest legends of the game. It was indeed a unique experience to see youngsters play with those who have experienced the best competition the game has on offer.
The company behind those two exhibition games was Leisure Leagues which is a project spearheaded by the Trunkwala Family that has rich ties with the game in Pakistan. And it is quite clear that the international football event would not be the first and last time the country hosts international players.
“This [the Ronaldinho and Friends exhibition match] is not a one-time thing,” promised World Group (the parent company that brought Leisure Leagues to Pakistan) President Shahzeb Trunkwala, also present in the lavish meeting room at the company’s Pakistan headquarters in upscale DHA. “We will organize this every year. And from next year we will try to bring in current players rather than retired ones.”
Quite clearly, Leisure Leagues is the only platform that is really providing an outlet to young footballers in the community to showcase their talent. Now in its second season, Leisure Leagues has now branched out its operations in Peshawar, Quetta and Hyderabad.
However, sky is clearly the limit for this company according to the COO, Syed Ishaq Shah.
“We want to bring football to all corners of Pakistan. It is clear that the country has talent in abundance and we intend to increase the outreach of this talent. Leisure Leagues is more than just a game. It is a social change that intends to project the soft image of Pakistan to the outsiders,” he says.
With a truly large platform that gives talented players a chance to realize their dreams, Leisure Leagues is a great example for other corporate entities to follow.
“I’ve been playing club football for quite some time but before Leisure Leagues arrived, I never thought that anything I achieve would be taken seriously. The leagues are well-managed and the organizers know exactly what they’re doing. I’m glad that we finally have a platform that will give younger players a sense of direction if they want to become professional footballers,” says Usman who plays Leisure Leagues in Islamabad.
Pakistan might be a cricket-mad country but football is the game where the country’s future may lie. And it is up to the corporate entities to give a long and hard look to the football talent in the country and join hands with such initiatives and help the game grow and nurture the talent that will one day help carve the country’s identity in football.