By Alam Zeb Safi
KARACHI: If a gardener plants a tree and it does not grow, then he, if he is a professional, will certainly know that it might have been hit by bacteria and unless he does try to remove the ailment the plant will not grow and at last fall. The same is the case with the football in Pakistan. The more the authorities spend on it, the more its standard falls.
If in the sixties and seventies Pakistan was reckoned as a force at least in Asia, these days it has been graded as the lowest ranked teams even in South Asia, following the recent slump of the team in the AFC Challenge Cup and then in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship held this year.
In spite of the congenial breeding environment, sufficient infrastructure, hefty investment and enough activity at the grassroots level, the graph is constantly falling. Former football legend and Pride of Performance Ali Nawaz Baloch briefed us about the status of Pakistan in this global sport in the past and at present and what is going wrong with it despite efforts from the football governing body in the country (PFF).
“Definitely, we were reckoned as a force in Asia before the fall of Dhaka. At that time, Dhaka and Calcutta were regarded as the most attractive spots for professionals. There were no academies in that era but here Karachi Municipal Committee (KMC) was serving as an academy, picking talented youngsters from the streets of Lyari and other areas and nourishing them. Each and every player was paid Rs 106 per month by the KMC. Almost all top Pakistani footballers were the products of this academy,” Ali Nawaz recalled.
He said, “Professional league in Dhaka and Calcutta used to lure stars from this area. Money and charm was always there in the League. Parents used to tell their children to play football as it would inflate their purse and they’d start living in style. Pakistan was a dangerous side at that time in Asia with a good ranking. But after the fall of Dhaka, KMC also abandoned its mission to prepare the youth and Pakistan football suffered a lot as the stock available in united Pakistan could hardly run till 1976.”
“To avert the fall, the then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto issued an order to all departments to form football teams and strictly following his advice Allied Bank Limited (ABL), Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB), Habib Bank Limited (HBL), National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) and a handful of others recruited footballers. It was a good move, but after Bhutto’s era the trend slowly lost ground and most of the departments scrapped their teams, and now you see very few departments are there and these too are not feeding the footballers properly,” the former mercurial striker said.
“In those days, a flood of crowd could be seen inside the stadiums watching their heroes, but now you see the public even does not know the top star of the country like Muhammad Essa. Is this justice with football and footballers in the country,” he remarked.
Ali Nawaz is critical of the domestic structure of football in Pakistan, saying unless the basic structure is corrected the use of money will be useless.
“Look at the League. It is just a futile exercise as how 182 matches could be conducted within three months. Unless its duration is extended, some technical flaws are removed, it will be of no use to the country,” he hinted.
He lamented the negligence of the authorities in wasting away precious money of around US$7,000 per month on the AID-27 Programme for preparing the youth.
“I think PFF is unable to keep the hefty fund it gets from FIFA and Asian Football Confederation (AFC). There is no utility of this programme because how talent could be trained in seven or eight days training camp in a year. If the PFF pays 250 dollars per month to each and every coach of the AID-27 programme, then it should have a check on them also,” he pointed out.
He also suggested that the provincial associations should not be used merely for gaining votes but they should be kept fully involved in the promotion of football.
There is no denying the fact that football is the luckiest of sport in Pakistan as it still having the back-up of the sponsors and media despite Pakistan’s team bad showing at international level. One could see a local tournament here in the name of Premier League Football on which the sponsors are determined to spend Rs 10 million. Is it not a good sign for this sport?
Moreover, FIFA is busy in erecting infrastructure in the federating units by spending more than one million dollars. The abundance of clubs, around 660 only in Karachi, the interest of the public, as could be seen in Chaman in Balochistan and sometimes here at Karachi where thousands of people come to see the league matches ask the authorities why they are unable to put football in the country on right track despite all the support.
Keeping in view these ground realities, the authorities should not lose any time anymore and must address the basic ailments in the structure before investing in football.