By Shazia Hasan – DAWN
KARACHI: As the people had once turned their backs on them when they needed them the most, the nine bronze medalist heroes of the recently-concluded Street Child World Cup (SCWC) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, snubbed the public gathered to receive them at Karachi’s Jinnah International airport here on Tuesday morning.
The music and dancing to happy drum beats had started hour before their plane landed. “The music has been playing nonstop since we got into the buses to come here to the airport from Lyari,” informed Arshad Ahmed a resident of Mauripur.
People from Lyari, Mauripur and Malir waited impatiently to catch a glimpse of Samir Ahmed, Abdul Raziq, Aurangzeb Baba, Salman Hussain, Owais Ali, Faizan Fayyaz, Mohammad Shoaib, Mehr Ali, Rajab Ali and their coach Abdul Rashid.
Apart from the banners with pictures of the team, the national flag and various party flags including PPP, PML-N and MQM were also being waved around.
Many people had brought bags full of rose petals along with garlands to shower the team with flowers. But the team just wouldn’t come out even after the flight’s arrival.
As time passed and the crowd grew impatient, the airport security guards too became more alert.
“We have been urging the people to kindly stand behind the barrier but they are crossing it again and again. We aren’t sure what exactly this team has achieved but it must have been something big judging by the crowd here,” said Mohammad Imran, an airport security guard.
Among the crowd were the coach of the team, Abdul Rashid’s father Abdul Ghafoor and uncle Lal Bakhsh.
“My wife, Rashid’s mother, and sisters are here too but they have decided to stay a little behind near the car park as they don’t want to be pushed or shoved in the crowd. Just look at these people going crazy now. What a change from when the team had left for the SCWC one-and-a-half weeks ago,” the father observed.
Most of the children in the team have not had an easy life. They had run away from their homes and led a tough life where they learned to fend for themselves.
Some had become drug addicts while some petty criminals as they lived on the streets. But then they united for the love of football.
Azad Foundation, an NGO, took them in and trained them in the sport.
In the SCWC, a seven-a-side event, they beat India 13-0 in their first outing followed with a 2-0 win against Kenya and 3-0 triumph against Mauritius before drawing 1-1 with the US team to reach the top in their group.
In the quarter-finals, they defeated the Philippines 3-2 but lost to Burundi 3-4 in the semi-finals. Still having seen much disappointment in life they pulled up their socks for the third-place match where they met USA again to edge past them 3-2 on penalty kicks to clinch the bronze medal.
Dr Mohammad Fahad, cousin of one of the players, Salman Hussain, was there, too. Providing a glimpse into the boy’s past he said: “Salman ran away from home after his parents divorced. But he turned a new leaf after discovering football.”
Another player, Mehr Ali’s, cousin Sajjad said: “Mehr was always an independent child. He wanted to take care of himself which is why he often left home on fishing trawlers to catch fish and earn a bit of money. But he also came back on dry land to play football. He is a big fan of Diego Maradona.”
Meanwhile, several politicians with huge bouquets joined in the crowd as the public.
“No one cared about these children but look at these parties now, each in competition with each other to claim them,” said one person in the crowd.
“By the way,” he said glancing at his watch. It’s been over an hour since the flight landed.
Have they even returned on a plane or is it a launch?”
Suddenly there was a furor.
Someone mentioned that the team was going to come from the first door at International Arrivals.
Everyone along with the politicians and media teams rushed to first set of doors only to tell that no, they were in fact going to come out from the second door.
But as everyone rushed to the second exit again, someone screamed pointing towards Domestic Arrivals as everyone ran in that direction.
The airport authorities got the team out from Domestic Arrivals.
It was much like a stampede as everyone raced to that side of the building with their banners, flags, rose petals, garlands and cameras. But by the time most of the people reached there, the team had boarded a bus that drove them away from the crowds that cheered and clapped anyway.