By Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: A year after winning the bronze medal at the Street Child World Cup in Brazil, plenty of doors have opened for Pakistan’s team, the latest one taking two members of the squad for a stint in Cambridge.
Abdul Raziq and Owais Ali, along with coach Abdul Rashid, are all set to spend 10 weeks in Cambridge to pursue various activities starting June 25; taking an English language course, attending trials for different football clubs and training to improve coaching skills.
“Going to England had never entered my wildest dreams,” Raziq, who is also training at least 20 other children in Mauripur after his Street Child World Cup success, told The Express Tribune. “Now that I’m getting a chance to go there, my goal will be to make my mark. I’m a striker, I love Lionel Messi and it will feel like I’m him if I get a chance to play even in the smallest club in the UK.”
According to Azad Foundation director Itfan Maqbool, whose NGO played the main role in developing and nurturing the team, the Street Child World Cup England and Muslim Hands Foundation is helping them to get the children and the coach to the UK.
“We’re in talks with a few clubs,” added Maqbool. “We can’t reveal more details at the moment, but these children are definitely going. It’s going to change everything for them. We chose Owais for being good academically and Raziq for his footballing talent, while our coach will also be training to improve his coaching skills. After this course, the children wouldn’t need anyone to speak for them. They’ll learn English and try for different clubs.”
Maqbool said the prize money of Rs200,000 for each child announced by the Government of Sindh for their performance at the World Cup is yet to materialise.
“We’re pushing for the children’s right to their promised reward, as our next stop after the Cambridge stint would be sending a 22-member team to Oslo in Norway,” said Maqbool. “However, Sherry Rehman has taken notice of the concerned authorities’ lax attitude and the government has promised to resolve the matter.”
The official added that the Government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has implemented a programme and the Sindh government is also working on a legislation for the well-being of children on the street.
Meanwhile, the success of the Street Child World Cup has impressed expats in the US and UK. Maqbool said that one chapter each of Azad Foundation in both countries will receive their charity numbers from the respective governments soon.
“We want to have a chapter in the US,” said Asim Azfar, a US resident who has joined hands with Azad Foundation. “We’ve registered with the governments and we’ll be able to help Azad foundation from US too. It’s a great success, and the children’s achievement is amazing.”
The original core of the Street Child World Cup squad is still intact with Sameer Ahmed, Raziq, Aurangzeb Baba, Salman Hussain, Owais, Faizan Fayyaz, Muhammad Shoaib, Mehr Ali and Rajab Ali. The players will begin their training for the international tours in the last week of this month.
The team members reminisced of their time in Norway, Denmark and Paris, where they played against the top U16 club teams in Europe last year. “When we were going to Norway, people would say that we are Pakistanis and we’ll vanish once we land in Europe like a team did 24 years ago,” revealed Owais. “It was some U19 team, and the players gave a bad name to the country. But we know we’ve changed that perception.”