KARACHI: Ticket bookings, hotel reservations, freestyle routines - Areeb Iqbal is all set for the international freestyle football competition except for his visa.
The 19-year-old came one step closer to fulfilling his dream to be a star freestyler when he qualified for the international street style football championship by defeating 16 competitors from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad in a tournament held in Karachi earlier this year. He is supposed to leave for Cape Town, South Africa on April 23 but the South African embassy has still not written back to him about his visa.
“I had my interview on April 13 and they told me they would get back to me within seven days,” Areeb told The Express Tribune. “But every time I call them, they say that they are still processing my documents and that I will get my passport back soon.” The young man is all nerves before the international tournament and not because of the fierce competition but because of his visa problems.
Areeb even met the provincial sports minister, Muhammad Ali Shah, on April 21 to discuss his travel dilemma. Even the Red Bull representatives, who are responsible for all travel costs and arrangements, seem to have given up, saying that they have done all that they could.
Areeb, however, has not lost hope. He still has time before the tournament that starts on April 26. The teenager has had it tough since the beginning. “I’m practicing all on my own,” he said, explaining that Pakistan has no forum for people like him who are interested in this sport. “There are no instructors or coaches so we have to do it by ourselves.” Earlier this month, when Areeb came into the spotlight, the provincial minister told Express News that the boy is not representing the government but participating as an individual.
“It is his own individual brilliance that has brought him here,” he conceded, while maintaining that freestyle football is not officially recognised as a sport in Pakistan yet. He said that the teenager has the government’s prayers and best wishes. According to him, the reason for lack of state patronage is because Areeb and his family have not approached the ministry for help.
However, Areeb said that when his mother did call the minister, “he seemed least interested”. Things started to look brighter when Areeb performed a freestyle routine earlier this month at a local football club tournament and the minister saw his talent in person. Areeb’s football coach, Adamjee, met the sports minister and scheduled a meeting with him for April 10 which kept getting delayed.
The young man has been following a strict training schedule that includes a diet plan, fitness routine and five to six hours daily of practicing freestyle football techniques. It is a challenging task to choreograph each and every step of the routine, Areeb said.
He has come up with around 10 to 12 different routines, each lasting for about 20 seconds. “You can stick with just one routine but then the judges won’t be too impressed,” he said, adding that it was important to display creativity.
“This sport is an art, this is a game where you feel free,” the young man said, “This is not just a game for me, but [a way] to show to the world who I am.” At present, however, Areeb’s dreams and plans hang in the balance, as he hopes the embassy gets back to him with his visa, and soon. — WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY TARIQ HUSSAIN