By Natasha Raheel – Express Tribune
KARACHI: Ahmad Rauf always dreamt of being part of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. However, there is little chance of Pakistan qualifying, nor does he have the time to pursue a footballing career along with his studies. But refusing to give up on his dream, he has taken a road less travelled — and indeed less glamorous — and has decided to don the colours of the referee.
The 21-year-old mechanical engineering student is now among the top 10 youth referees chosen by Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in the Project Future Referees batch that finished its first training session in Malaysia this month.
Ahmad said that his dream is to be a part of the 2022 and 2026 World Cups, and hopes to represent Pakistan as a referee internationally. His goal is to be one of the top 20 referees in the continent in the next seven years in order to qualify for the sports’ most prestigious event.
“Being a referee is the only way I can participate in the World Cup,” Ahmad told The Express Tribune. “I used to play football in Khanewal, but my family didn’t want to see me as a footballer. Becoming a footballer meant that I had to put my studies aside but my family did not want that. Now I juggle my passion for football with pursuing an engineering degree from the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore.”
The fateful moment
It was in 2012 that Ahmad decided to become a referee. A local coach asked him to join a Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) referee course because one of the participants had backed off. He agreed.
“I was coming to Lahore for my university education, so I decided to take the five-day course,” he said. “I finished top of the bunch. Encouraged by that, I took advanced courses, and the PFF later nominated me for the AFC courses.”
At just 21, he became the first Pakistani to officiate an international match at the AFC U14 Championship in Iran. Ahmad has already officiated in 21 international matches and hopes to continue impressing the AFC.
But for all of his achievements at such a young age, Ahmad remains grounded and focused. “I was lucky I guess,” said Ahmad, who knows there is still a lot of hard work between now and him ever being in charge of a World Cup game. “It’s a high-pressure job and crucial split-second decisions can change the match.”
Ahmad will take the second course in the Project Future programme in Maldives in August, where the referees will officiate in Maldives Premier League matches, graduating from the programme in 2016.
It may be too early to say whether Ahmad will ever realise his dream or not but considering his quick rise to prominence, only a foolish man will rule out the possibility of Ahmad wearing the FIFA badge proudly on his chest in a World Cup match come Qatar 2022.