by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: It ended in yet another glorious triumph for Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) but almost everyone who was there, and all who were part of it, hoped it would be a start of regular football activity in the country.
At times the announcer at the packed-to-capacity KMC Stadium called out to world’s football governing body FIFA to look at the passion the people of Pakistan have for football in the country, asking it to resolve the crisis plaguing the game for the last several years.
Probably everyone agreed; from the fans to the players, team officials to organisers.
“I certainly want to watch more local football,” young fan Mohammad Ali Jawwad said after the final of the inaugural Naya Nazimabad Quaid-i-Azam Departmental Football Tournament here on Sunday. “I hope more tournaments are organised in the near future.”
Many call football the game of the masses in Pakistan but detractors point to the fact that most fans follow European football than the local game. This three-week long tournament, though, saw people from all spectrums of the society converge with most games from the quarter-finals stage being watched on by a full house at the KMC Stadium.
Football has been suspended in the country since the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) split into two factions — one led by its incumbent chief Faisal Saleh Hayat and the other led by its vice-president Arshad Khan Lodhi — ahead of its presidential elections in June 2015.
It prompted an intervention from the Lahore High Court, which appointed an administrator to oversee matters, leading to a ban by FIFA — which recognises Hayat — in October this year.
But despite FIFA suspending the PFF after nearly two years since the dispute first broke out, the Hayat faction didn’t organise a single event during the time with the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) and the Pakistan Football Federation League (PFFL) having not taken place since the 2014-15 season.
It also moved the court to prevent the administrator from holding events while the provincial Sindh Football Association (SFA) secretary Rahim Baksh Baloch, who backs Hayat, also tried to stop the Quaid departmental tournament.
Days after the FIFA ban, Rahim was sitting at a hastily-arranged and ill-planned news conference announcing the launch of one ‘Classic Football League’ which had a tag-line that “Football is alive”.
Yet it was at the very tournament which he tried to stop which showed the game remains alive. And it was the climax which attracted the biggest crowd with not an empty seat in sight.
“We had a hugely successful tournament which gives us the impetus to organise more,” Nasir Karim, the chairman of Karachi’s District Football Association South — under whose auspices the tournament was organised, told Dawn.
Nasir and the tournament’s organising secretary Ahmed Jan held the tournament with the blessings of the court-appointed administrator of the PFF and although only four top-tier teams took part in this one, the former is hoping there will be more in the next one.
“We plan to hold a big event in March in which we hope all the departments of the country will take part,” he added.
Four-time national champions KRL were one of those PPFL sides taking part and they beat fellow top-tier team Karachi Port Trust (KPT) 3-0 in the final.
“It was great that we got to play a high-quality tournament after a long gap,” KPT coach Fareed Majeed told Dawn. “The teams want to play as much as we can.”
The tournament’s success has also seen ideas float the country’s departmental teams will get together and initiate the start of the league.
“That would be a great for the players,” KRL’s Umair Ali, the player of the tournament, told Dawn when asked how much they would support such an idea. “This tournament has left us longing for more football.”
The groundsman at the KMC Stadium, Mohammad Rasheed, was also left yearning for more.
“The festival has ended,” Rasheed told Dawn. “But I’m glad that for the last few weeks we bought smiles back to the faces of Pakistan’s football fans.”