Football in Pakistan may receive some major kick-offs this year, with investments, promotions and tournaments expected to bring the game from sideline to centre spot.
Football fans are already gushing these days over the news that Liverpool football legend Ian Rush is coming to Pakistan. The star is expected to promote grass root tourism and football in the country.
Scoring phenomenal 346 goals in all competitions, Ian Rush is one of the finest natural penalty-box predators the game has ever seen. The legendary star is aiming to give his full-back support, with plans to build a structure for football development which includes a league system, club development, coaches development, game development in schools and above all persistent international exposure to the players of various age-groups.
The incentives are just what the football players in Pakistan may be looking for, as due to the lack of such opportunities, football has remained a low lying game in the country. However, performances in the past and talent in the present give hope for a promising future.
Shortly after the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) was created, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah became its first Patron-in-Chief. PFF received recognition from the global football body FIFA in early 1948. In 1950, the national team gained their first international experience in Iran and Iraq. In 1952, Pakistan had already won the Colombo Cup and later the Pakistan National Team participated in the Asian Games at Manila and also toured the Far East. Having an impressive record in South Asian Games, Pakistan has won four gold medals and one bronze for football between the years 1987 and 2006.
But Pakistan has never made an appearance in any major tournament outside South Asian region, in contrast to its neighbours India and Bangladesh. One reason is Pakistan’s inconsistent participation in international tournaments.
In Pakistan, and Lyari – a constituent town in the city of Karachi in particular, there is plenty of raw talent. What the football players of the country lack in are modern techniques, gauging the abilities and weaknesses of other players and disciplined training geared towards particular skills.
Then there is the lack of resources. Most football grounds in Pakistan are not properly maintained. The aspiring athletes who play in sand and dirt are prone to diseases of the lung and respiratory system as well as being more susceptible to injuries.
Added to this is the lack of discipline and diet which many promising athletes cannot commit to because of their economic standing. Players who also work to provide for their families can simply not give the required time. Most of these players lament the lack of support and patronage by the government that have kept football from taking centre stage in Pakistan.
But with legends like Ian Rush entering the football field of Pakistan, the scenario is expected to move forward. Rush is bringing in his foundation, which aims to promote the game in developing countries.
“My aim is to facilitate grassroots football not just in the UK but globally, especially in underprivileged areas,” says Ian Rush in an exclusive interview. “My wish is to pass on as much support as possible to other aspiring footballers or people who just love the game! If I can help even one person achieve their dream then I will be happy!’
To begin with, Ian Rush Foundation, in collaboration with Oxford Creative Hub (OCH), an incubation centre based in Pakistan as well as Britain, plans to record a documentary showcasing tourism and grass-roots football in Pakistan, raise funds to be donated to local football charity, open a Football Academy which would include international coaches and set up an E-Sports Gaming Channel including live stream in Pakistan.
Spencer Fearon, a former professional boxer and a leading training and development motivational speaker is also expected to arrive to support the initiative.
The foundation’s initiatives become particularly relevant as major football tournaments in Pakistan are in the pipeline.
All Pakistan Inter-City Football League commenced across the country this month. Not only that World Soccer Stars is bringing legendary footballers to play exhibition matches with local players in Pakistan.
Later this year, the first-ever Pakistan Football Super League (PFSL) consisting of top international players from across the world is expected to be organised on two different venues Peshawar and Karachi.
As the football playing field may get busy, global football body FIFA is also likely to send a delegation to Pakistan to assess the situation of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF). The move is hoped to resolve the long running crisis in the country’s football governing body and thus, help Pakistani football players enter the international playing field. Pakistan is currently ranked 200 among the FIFA World Rankings.
Also on the local front, a committee has been formed under the Chairman Senate Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani for the promotion and development of football in the country and participation from the private sector has been welcomed.
It’s a well accepted fact that in Pakistan, the game of football ranks behind in popularity than cricket. But it seems that the public as well as the private sector are now joining hands to bring the game in limelight. For now, the spotlight awaits the entry of legendary stars like Ian Rush and Spencer Fearon to kick some activity in the field of sports in Pakistan.