AFP – Published by DAWN
LAHORE: Pakistan’s football chief on Friday said he was confident about hosting qualifying matches for the AFC’s under-16 championship despite a bomb attack that killed eight young football fans in Karachi last week.
Pakistan has been a “no go” area for foreign teams since the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001 and the ensuing war on terror which sparked security fears in the South Asian country.
Terrorists attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team bus in Lahore four years ago washed away all hopes of Pakistan staging any cricketing or international sporting event.
Eight people were killed in a bomb blast last week after a day-night football match in the Karachi’s Lyari slum, an area famous for producing quality players.
But Pakistan Football Federation President Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat said the Asian Football Confederation had given a go-ahead to the qualifiers in October.
“The AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has been kind enough to give us the go-ahead and I am sure the successful staging of the qualifiers will open doors for more sporting event in the country,” Hayat told AFP.
The PFF staged the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President’s Cup in 2011 and has also hosted age group events with foreign participations over the past three years.
The Group E qualifiers involving United Arab Emirates, Iran, Sri Lanka and Pakistan will be played in Karachi from October 25-29 this year.
The top ten teams and five best runners-up from qualifying rounds will feature in the AFC Under-16 championships in Thailand next year.
Hayat said after attack in Karachi, Lahore had been chosen as the qualifiers’ venue.
“Unfortunately we had an incident after the football match in Karachi earlier this month but we still wanted to host the event in Lyari, Karachi but in case there is a problem we have Lahore as an alternate,” said Hayat, also Pakistan’s former interior minister.
Hayat said football has the capacity to build Pakistan’s image.
“We feel that football is loved in Pakistan and as our commitment to lift football, we want to use the sport as a tool to lift our country’s image world-wide.”