Cricket is at the backburner, hockey hardly matters, the most prestigious tennis tournament is under way, but like the seven billion occupants of planet earth, the only sporting competition that has Pakistan on the edge of their seats is the Fifa World Cup!
Even during some dark times, the extravaganza has become the talk of the town; football grounds, traditional sporting nurseries and neighbourhoods, restaurants and cafes, social media, are all in the middle of the frenzy.
At the same time, there is a real sense of pride for the embattled nation each time the Brazuca ball (manufactured in Sialkot) clatters at the back of the net.
While the tournament ball gives Pakistan a sense of belonging at the event, the fact is that with a ranking hovering around the 160 mark, the national team has over the years struggled to put up a show during World Cup qualifiers.
Even regular participation in continental events like the Commonwealth and Asian Games remains a distant dream.
National junior team coach and former international player Nasir Ismail feels that financial help by the government and corporate sector is much needed for the growth of the game.
“We are desperate for investors who can promote football by providing financial help,” Ismail told The Express Tribune.
“I firmly believe that we have the talent and the ability to qualify for the World Cup.
“If we can find sponsorship and financial help of around Rs500 million, we can change the face of the game in the country. I think it will take us eight years to rise through the ranks once the funds are pumped.”
The present regime, working under Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) President Faisal Saleh Hayat, has the chance to develop a solid base for future talent through the Fifa Goal Project, but the effort is yet to come close to fruition despite the fact that the project got under way many years ago.
Purpose-made grounds are being setup in cities like Jacobabad, Quetta, Karachi, and Sukkur. Fifa has pumped in no less than $200 million for these facilities, yet the projects haven’t been completed despite starting more than five years ago.
Ismail hopes the Goal Project will start functioning soon.
“The project has been in the works for many years and must be completed at the earliest since a lot can be achieved through these facilities.”
On the other hand, PFF Marketing and Event Management Consultant Naveed Haider claims that the projects should be ready by next year.
“We are confident that the goal projects being developed in Karachi, Sukkur, Jacobabad and Quetta will be ready for use in a year’s time,” said Haider. “Besides these four projects, a similar project will start in Khanewal.”
Haider, who has been associated with the PFF for a few years now, is pinning hope on these projects and feels that the new generation of footballers will have a solid base to ply their trade on.
“These facilities will be used for grooming players at the grassroots level; we will ensure that young girls and boys from towns, villages and cities in close proximity to the venues are also incorporated in these programmes.”
Furthermore, he disclosed that the federation is concentrating on the South Asian Federation (SAF) Games to be staged in India next year. The short-term goal is to win the event as it will improve Pakistan’s standing in Asia.
“Our long-term goal is to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, but it is important to stay realistic and take gradual steps towards the attainment of the target.
“If we improve at the regional level first, we will have great confidence to take forward. Mission 2022 might sound like a madman’s dream, but the fact is that unless we aim high, we are not going to get anywhere.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2014.
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