By Maha Mussadaq – Express Tribune
ISLAMABAD: Football needs greater sponsorship to grow beyond the national level. This was said by Irfan Khan Niazi, who managed the Pakistan national football team from 2006 to 2010.
He added that cricket and cricketers received millions in sponsorship money, whereas football players do not go beyond a certain level in Pakistan.
He was speaking to The Express Tribune while leading his players onto the pitch to participate in a 15-day football tournament that kicked off under the Federal Football Club (FFC) here on Sunday. The opening match was played between Falcon FC and Islamabad Academy.
A total of 31 clubs affiliated with the Islamabad Football Association were participating in the tournament. A large number of football enthusiasts sent their respective favorite teams to the pitch amid hooting and cheering.
Dressed in his gym gear, Niazi affixed his eyes on the ground while his players followed the pace of the moving ball as it tossed from one player to the other. He explained that Pakistan could not excel in the field of soccer beyond national level.
Working to promoting football and having managed the Pakistan national football team from 2006 to 2010, Niazi stressed on the need for greater sports sponsorship if football was ever to grow from national level to international level.
With an annual budget of Rs1.5 million, the official said that only 10 to 15 events were conducted each year. “This is not even enough money for one player to travel abroad and play,” he said. The associations in the past have been managing finances on their own to get the clubs running.
While speaking about the potential of the sport and players in Pakistan, Niazi explained that football players in Pakistan started training at a much later age.
He said that while countries such as Singapore, Nepal and India train their children from the age of six, Pakistani kids get training at the age of twelve.
He said that schools must encourage sports and add football as part of their extracurricular activities and physical education at an early stage.
He said that the grassroots level clubs needed more work in terms of developing proper grounds, infrastructures and coaches.
“Progress at lower levels would eventually result in picking the best and making them play for the national teams would improve the quality of the sport.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2014.