By Shahrukh Sohail, Chief Editor, Islamabad
Published by MAG The Weekly
Football Initiatives tend to be far and few in Pakistan with little planning for future growth. However, Abdul-Razzaq Welfare Trust (ARWT) has been defying the norm for the past three years and put out all the stops in September, organising an All-Punjab Football Tournament.
While the focus was on community development, Football has become a primary function for ARWT inthe past few years and it was down to the founder Dr. Kayani’s son, Hamza Azhar that things really took off. In 2010, feeling the sense of football fever gripping the nation, Hamza led ARWT to hold a Jhelum Inter-district football tournament that served as the stepping stone for their success. The costs of the entire tournament were borne by the organisers, but the local community showed unmatched enthusiasm, showing up fully-kitted for their games and even managing a 500 strong crowd in the opening ceremony.
Even the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) officially backed the tournament, with PFF General Secretary Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi making the trip to see the final action live. Determined to take the initiative forward, Hamza then worked up the 2nd edition in 2011 in cooperation with the Army, PFF, Punjab Football Association (PFA) and the Jhelum football Association (JDFA). This led to clubs such as Islamabad champions Mehran FC taking part and overall raised awareness about the tournament itself.
After missing out on a 2012 tournament due to the hectic schedule of his studies in the United Kingdom, Hamza returned as a graduate in 2013 with renewed vigour to organise the most successful event yet. On came the 3rd ARWT – All Punjab Football Tournament which Hamza was determined to showcase on television. His relentless efforts convinced a local channel to telecast live and with the presence of the media corps in a local tournament, the glitz and glamour factor was reverberated around Jhelum.
“This as I would say was a ‘cherry on the top’, as it created a lot of buzz for the people within Jhelum and outside it in terms of promoting football. To my understanding, this was unprecedented, as in to cover a local domestic footballing event in a region which is basically neglected by other media strongholds,” added Hamza while exclusively talking to FootballPakistan.com.
The level of organisation was clearly astounding for what started as a community project. Medical facilities in the shape of a Rescue 1122 van stood vigilantly to assist in an emergency and Pakistan Premier League referees Touqeer Aslam and Majid Khan officiated the fixtures while the participating teams did not have to pay a single rupee; a humongous achievement considering how much an average tournament charges for entry fees these days.
Besides providing refreshments to the teams and crowds, ARWT stood out immensely by marketing their tournament throughout the Jhelum area. Banners, posters, local radios and cables backed the initiative and in a unique marketing stunt, ‘Qinqchis’ were adorned with promotion materials that resulted in immense popularity throughout the matches.
The tournament has attracted its fair share of VIPs, with Technical Director Pervaiz Mir, former Pakistan /current KRL coach Tariq Lutfi and Pakistan U-19 coach Nasir Ismail visiting the finale on several occasions. ARWT’s efforts have not been in vain and they managed to secure 55 canals in Jhelum from the Punjab government for football development, something which they are now meticulously planning to develop.
“We want to have a FIFA ‘Goal’ Project in Jhelum and we are also looking to get a foreign club to open up an academy here,” revealed Hamza in a frank discussion with FootballPakistan. With Pakistan receiving substantial funding to develop FIFA’s projects, Jhelum could be the ideal venue after Lahore and Karachi to receive the grant especially given that they already have sufficient land for the cause.
And Jhelum has no shortage of talent either as shown by the tournament itself. One such shining example is 16-year-old midfielder Atif who played for current champions Jhelum White, dribbling past opponents at night in his meagre football gear and mending to other people’s livestock in the day to help his family financially.
ARWT made sure that Atif never had to face problems regarding football equipment and are now scouring potential professional teams such as Army FC to help him turn football into a career. Such has been the noble cause that the Pakistani diaspora abroad has contributed heftily to the football event and that has been a motivating factor for the organisers and Hamza to reach even greater heights.
Besides lobbying for the FIFA ‘Goal’ project, ARWT are planning to shape up a two-tier League system in Jhelum for around year long football and introduce a U-22 event for budding footballers in the next edition as well.
And if the 2014 event is even remotely similar to what Hamza and co. have done over the past few years, they will have truly made the football fraternity of Pakistan proud.