by Mansoor Malik
LAHORE: The Pakistan Army has offered Fortress Stadium with full security cover for the holding of the exhibition football match in Lahore featuring seven international players, being organised by the UK-based Leisure Leagues.
The offer came at the heels of Punjab government’s refusal to provide security cover to the football match following security and intelligence agencies report that holding a large-scale event will be a difficult in the wake of precarious security concerns.
It is reliably learnt that the direction to hold the football match featuring “Ronaldinho and Friends” with “foolproof security cover” in Lahore on July 9 came directly from the General Headquarters (GHQ). The Pakistan Army will not only be providing security cover at the match venue but to the international football players at their hotel as well as their movement in the city.
It may be mentioned that the ISPR DG Maj-Gen Asif Ghafoor had recently tweeted: “We welcome Ronaldinho and his team to Pakistan July 6-8 in coordination with the Leisure Leagues.” He added “Pakistan is a peace and sports loving country”.
The Punjab government following Pakistan Army’s intervention is feeling secluded as the decision to not go-ahead with the holding of the exhibition match was discussed in detail and the security as well as intelligence agencies had come up with a suggestion that it would be risky to hold the match at large-scale as was the case with the Pakistan Super League’s final match at Qaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
The Punjab government’s 21-member committee led by law minister Rana Sanaullah to look into “the possibility of arranging a high level football match in one of the sports facilities of Lahore besides assessment of security situation and magnitude of arrangements that might be required for the said purpose” had held series of meetings. Eventually, the security agencies that were tasked to look into the threat perception in view of the high-profile match came up with a suggestion not to go for holding the match at a large scale.
The Chief Minister’s committee comprising law, counter terrorism and sports ministers as well as chief secretary, home secretary and other top security agencies officials had instead suggested the Leisure Leagues Pakistan officials to hold the match at small scale, wherein spectators be invited (around 2,000 to 3,000) through invitation cards. This preposition would be having spectators already screened without posing much security issues.
However, this preposition did not go well with the organisers, who wanted to hold the high-profile match at large scale considering commercial aspects of the event. The organisers now have plans to have around 20,000 to 25,000 crowed at Fortress Stadium.
The tickets being sold have denominations of Rs2000, Rs5,500, Rs8,000, Rs18,000, Rs30,000 and some tickets are of Rs50,000 each.
The seven international football superstars featuring in the exhibition match are: Ronaldinho Gaucho (Brazil), David James (England), Robert Pires (France), Roberto Carlos (Brazil), Nicolas Anelka (France), Luis Boa Morte (Portugal) and George Boateng (Netherlands).
Sources in the Punjab government said the chief minister’s committee had discussed the matter with all stakeholders in most serious manner as the football was the world sport as compared to the small cricketing world. “Pakistan is still facing repercussions following attack on the Sri-Lankan cricket team in Lahore,” the source said.
Besides financial cost, sources said the Punjab government conducted security exercise for the PSL final match at Qaddafi Stadium well before time, while there was too short time for any such exercise if the football match be held at Punjab hockey or football stadium.
The Punjab government top officials related to law and order say the government has hinted at approaching at the Punjab Apex Committee with regard to the holding of exhibition match in Lahore following security and intelligence agencies’ refusal at the Punjab Apex committee.
When contacted, Punjab sports department secretary Nayyer Iqbal reiterated that the Leisure Leagues’ football is no more related to his department as there was neither any communication nor correspondence with regard to the football match.