by Mansoor Malik
LAHORE: Considering security situation precarious, the Punjab government has reportedly not given its go-ahead to UK-based Leisure Leagues for holding an exhibition football match in Lahore featuring international stars including Ronaldinho, Nicolas Anelka and David James as well as Pakistani footballers.
The government, in view of serious security concerns, is considering allowing a small-scale match.
Meanwhile, the Sindh government has given a go-ahead to hold an exhibition match early next month.
The Punjab government has held a series of meetings to look into the threat perception for the exhibition match and, it is learnt, the security agencies did not give their approval.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had constituted a 21-member committee headed by Law Minister Rana Sanaullah to look into “the possibility of arranging a high-level football match at one of the sports venues of Lahore besides assessment of security situation and magnitude of arrangements that might be required for the said purpose”.
The committee having law, counter terrorism and sports ministers as well as chief secretary, home secretary and other top security agencies officials held a marathon meeting last week.
The meeting had eventually asked the Intelligence Bureau and Special Branch to assess the security threat in case of holding a high-profile exhibition match.
The committee also met on Thursday but did not give a go-ahead to hold the proposed exhibition match, sources told Dawn.
Instead, sources claimed, the committee suggested the Leisure Leagues officials to hold the exhibition match at a smaller scale. It recommended the Leagues should not sell tickets and instead invite people through invitation cards.
Sources said the suggestion came in the wake of serious security threats. The committee believed that the persons invited (around 2,000 to 3,000) through invitation cards would be already screened and there would be no security issues.
When contacted, CEO of Leisure Leagues, Pakistan, Ishaq Shah confirmed that the government had not yet given a clear go-ahead to hold the exhibition match featuring international football stars at a big scale like the final of Pakistan Super League (PSL) staged in Lahore in March this year.
Shah confirmed that seven international football stars will be coming to Pakistan early next month.
They include Ronaldinho (Brazil), David James (England), Robert Pires (France), Roberto Carlos (Brazil), Nicolas Anelka (France), Luis Boa Morte (Portugal) and George Boateng (Netherlands).
Answering a question, he admitted that the Punjab government was reluctant to give permission and instead suggested that the exhibition match be organised at a smaller scale.
While the Leisure Leagues Pakistan had plans to hold the exhibition match at a hockey stadium in Lahore, Shah told Dawn that it would not be feasible logistically as well as commercially to hold the exhibition match in the provincial capital at a smaller scale.
On the other hand, the Sindh government, Shah added, had allowed the Leisure Leagues to hold a exhibition match at full scale.
“We will prefer to shift the exhibition match to Islamabad instead of holding a match in Lahore at a smaller scale,” the official maintained.
Here it may also be mentioned that Punjab Chief Minister’s Special Monitoring Unit (SMU) in collaboration with the Punjab Sports Board has collaborated with the Leisure Leagues to bring football to public fields and grounds across the province.