In light of the indefinite postponement of the much hyped-up Clash Of The Titans Pak-India football series in UK by organisers TouchSky Sports, PFF Director Marketing Sardar Naveed Haider Khan spoke with The News football correspondent Alam Zeb Safi about the aftermath of such a disappointing bit of news:
By Alam Zeb Safi [The News]
It was really unfortunate that the much awaited Indo-Pak football series was postponed at a time when both the teams were preparing to leave for London late last month.
The arch-rivals were scheduled to face each other in the two-match series on September 3 in Derby and September 9 in Glasgow. The decision to postpone the series was taken solely by the organisers without taking the participating countries into confidence which shows an utter failure on their part.
Although the decision did hurt the emotions and aspirations of the players and officials on both sides of the border but at least it did not come as a financial blow for the federations of the participating nations. The organisers — TouchSky Sports — suffered the most in the whole process as they faced not only financial losses but also lost their credibility.
On the issue, ‘The News on Sunday’ interviewed the main figure behind the whole project, Director Marketing and Event Management of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Naveed Haider and he will tell you how the series was shaped and what led to its postponement.
The News on Sunday: When and how did you conceive an idea to organise an Indo-Pak football series in England and how did you convince India before taking the step?
Naveed Haider: It was in 2010 when I met Clem Leech and Ahmar Kunwar from UK-based TouchSky Sports. They had brought into Pakistan Graham Roberts on a coaching assignment for the PFF last year. This was a fully sponsored activity. During our meetings, they showed their desire to organise a three-match football series between Pakistan and India in the United Kingdom and Dubai. I spoke to my old friend Sunando, who is now the CEO of Indian Football League. He appreciated the thought and asked me to send a proposal to AIFF.
TNS: Touch Sky Sports (TSS) was your first choice for the scheme or did you contact any other company at that time?
NH: Well, they are the FIFA approved player and match agents. It means that they have the license to organise friendly matches between any two countries or clubs anywhere in the world which is why we went along with them to organise the series.
TNS: Under which conditions you did make a deal with the TSS?
NH: I cannot disclose the terms of the contract. TSS confirmed to sponsors all the expenses related to the event and agreed to pay appearance money, air-tickets, full boarding and lodging for both the teams. In return, they got the live telecast, series holding, marketing and promotion rights from both the federations.
TNS: Had you taken India into confidence when the series was initially planned before World Cup qualifiers?
NH: We were in touch with them and TouchSky Sports were making all the plans and they kept us informed about all the schedules and arrangements and assured us that they would hold the series in a professional manner.
TNS: Why did the series remain under cloud of uncertainty throughout the whole process and who was responsible for all the mess?
NH: I think TSS messed it up from the start. They miscalculated the commercial value of the project. Initially, they came up with unattainable sponsorship packages. When they sent me their proposal, I rejected it and advised them to make a more realistic proposal which could be easy to market in UK, Pakistan and India. They ignored my advice and tried to sell the three-match package without any success. Then they reduced the amounts and made a fresh package but it simply confused the prospective sponsors who lost confidence in their ability and credibility. Then they came up to change the dates from June/July to August/September. We agreed with the changes because both the teams were busy in their World Cup qualifiers.
The agreed dates and venues were August 28, at Bury FC in Manchester, September 3 at Coventry City FC and September 11 at West Ham United FC in London. Again after a few days they shifted the second match from Coventry to Derby County FC.
These changes never went down well with us but TSS always provided valid reasons to justify their work. Then the riots started in Britain and they came up with the suggestion to hold one match in Derby FC only. The PFF objected to it because this was not as per agreement. So we categorically told them that the PFF is ready to send our team to play one match with India only if we played at least two more matches with the local clubs. In the meantime, I requested AIFF to at least play two matches which they agreed.
So the final programme came. Pakistan were scheduled to play a friendly match on September 1 against Birmingham FC which was changed to August 29. The first clash against India was scheduled for September 3 in Derby, followed by the second and last one in Glasgow on September 9.
Again the English FA came up with the idea to have an exhibition futsal match against India on August 29, followed by an inter-community session and a seminar to promote Asians into football. We agreed with this proposal which was being organised by English FA and they launched a massive promotional programme.
But the sponsorship position and ticket sales did not show any encouraging response. TSS came up with an idea to dedicate the match on September 3 in memory of the three young men of the Pakistani origin, who unfortunately lost their lives during the riots in Birmingham. This was a decision taken solely by TSS perhaps to gain the sympathies of the community and in desperate need to get people buy the tickets. Because they announced that all the proceeds of the match will be donated to a trust which will be established in the honour of the victims.
The families refused to be a part of this and declined to attend any activity before 40 days mourning period. This was the last trick in their bag which failed so they were left with no choice but to postpone the series under this plea.
They never bothered to take our opinion on any of this and did not even have the courtesy of writing/requesting PFF and AIFF for a further postponement.
My final thought is that TSS failed on all fronts and missed out a great opportunity to showcase such a great event professionally.
TNS: Was the postponement of the series by the organisers at the eleventh hour disappointing?
NH: We are not disappointed or angry but we are very upset. We are already in touch with AIFF and we plan to report them to FIFA. We received the initial deposits from TSS plus the air tickets but we are going to demand the full appearance money and all costs and losses from them.
TNS: Don’t you think that you should have been in England during the crucial days which could have given you an opportunity to keep an eagle eye on what the organisers were doing?
NH: It should have been other way around. Their team should have been working in Pakistan and India marketing this event through a professional company. They would have easily generated a lot of funds from sponsorships, branding rights and live telecast.
TNS: Would you file a complaint with FIFA against the TSS or any legal action against them is in line?
NH: Yes a formal complaint will be launched with FIFA. As far as legal matters are concerned, they have to be decided by the presidents of both federations in consultation with their executive committees.
TNS: As the TSS says that the series would be rescheduled sometimes later this year. In your opinion is it possible for them now?
NH: No more deals with them.
TNS: If the series is not held in England any more, would you plan to hold it in any other neutral venue?
NH: Let’s wait and see. Definitely the ideal situation would be to hold home and away series with India.
TNS: Denmark-based Yousuf Butt and Mohammad Ali have purchased their own tickets. Would you help them refund these through the TSS?
NH: We will refund their tickets, so no worries on that front. We know how to take care of our boys and we will be there for them always.