by Mohammad Shahnawaz
It is not every day that you see something from Pakistan’s entertainment industry that leaves you in awe but also touches a nerve, forcing you to think why it just happened. This is exactly what Lyari Underground has done with their new release on Patari.
Tabeer, a music album being launched by music start-up Patari has taken the country by storm overnight. After the huge success of ‘Sibbi Rap’ and ‘Chitta Chola’ highlighting unique talents by Patari, Lyari Underground’s Balochi rap song ‘Players of Lyari’ dropped jaws by using music to highlight the plight of a football-mad community at the heart of Karachi’s Lyari Town.
Arguably it is the first time in Pakistan that music has been chosen as a medium to highlight issues facing local football and footballers. ‘Players of Lyari’ is perhaps the only instance after the famous Khalid Abbas Dar takedown of Pakistan’s hockey failures at the 1985 PTV Awards, in highlighting a sporting disaster.
Sport in Pakistan usually means cricket and occasionally hockey nowadays. Our TV shows and political terminology is all infested with cricket and often ignorant of other sports existing in Pakistan.
But Lyari is different: the two most popular sports here are football and boxing. Both sports — passions of working classes worldwide — enjoyed past success but have now fallen on hard times. Lyari produced some of Pakistan’s greatest footballers such as Abdul Ghafoor Majna, Musa Ghazi, Turab Ali, Captain Umar, Hussain Killer, etc and boxers including Hussain Shah — one of the two individual Olympic medallists for Pakistan. Gang wars, drugs and politics have damaged Lyari’s sporting production line.
The rappers highlight grievances on the decline of football and the challenges associated with it, ripping apart all stakeholders responsible for Lyari’s troubles on and off the pitch. They highlight the lives lost due to political machinations and drugs. Football, once an outlet out of poverty and an opportunity to represent Pakistan internationally, has all but gone due to troubles within the game.
The poverty-stricken Lyarian sportsmen
Either their lives are being wasted or they’re killed behind the political parties
However it’s not the strangers to blame, since it’s our own lack of knowledge on who we can trust
How many days can a player endure?
The coaches are viewed as doing nothing for the players yet act like big shots. They mention biased selections costing many careers, especially if players cannot pay their way into certain teams.
There is no limit to talent, but the coaches are blind to it
They don’t have any fear of God
They don’t have an ounce of affection for us
They’ve just filled their pockets with money
They prefer favouritism over talent
The players have been exhausted
The coaches have destroyed their talent
The song also points out ethnic discrimination, accusing national-level coaches of viewing Baloch players negatively compared to other ethnicities — a damning indictment of perceived attitudes towards the Baloch in Pakistan. Once again, Punjab gets the blame, given Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) calls Lahore home.
But if you’re a Baloch, then the football coach views you negatively
The words which come out from their mouths are sweet but their hearts are deceitful
They demotivate the player to ensure he gives up on football I’ve never seen anyone who has given our Baloch sportsmen their rights
The issues highlighted in ‘Players of Lyari’ are valid but they are a result of a bigger problem in Pakistan surrounding sports governance. Football and other ‘minority’ sports in Pakistan lack public attention. In these sports, players are just pawns for those running the federations. Many struggle to name the national team’s captain but will be able to name the politician heading the federation. While players struggle to make ends meet in Pakistan, the perks and privileges allegedly enjoyed by federation officials is castigated in the song:
Come on! Even corruption has its limits
Give the corrupt one or two lac
Then your job would be done
Otherwise you can’t succeed
No way!? Getting cut from the team
The reality hurts
Pakistan’s dysfunctional sports system means the federations avoid any responsibility of developing and promoting the sport, preferring to take a backseat doing tick box stuff to keep things moving, generating excuses for repeated failures of the national senior/junior teams. That is something which isn’t going to change any time especially if authorities continue to hold condescending views about working class footballers. Recently, a junior Pakistan Football Federation official on social media had the gall to blame players’ socio-economic background and lack of formal education for on-the-pitch failures. How are those working class footballers supposed to improve if there’s no structured nationwide youth development? Isn’t that the place for them to get football education?
‘In Punjab the football is sponsored but in Lyari our department has been shut down’
Our football, like other sports here, suffers from an outdated departmental system. While Lyari Underground highlighted the closure of department teams as seen with HBL and Pakistan Steel recently closing football operations, one must keep the bigger picture in mind. Department jobs may be a way out of poverty and provide some stability, but is no longer a way forward if Pakistan football is to compete internationally. Football worldwide is about professional clubs having proper youth development systems in place focusing on players from the age of seven onwards. On the other hand, departments usually take players after they turn 18. Whose responsibility is it to develop them for a decade before they join a department? Local coaches have no motivation or resources to develop talent from an early age.
‘Pakistan football federation is corrupt!’ raps the song.
In a proper structured environment, clubs rely on financial distribution from national and provincial federations and also generate own incomes. In Pakistan, the PFF instead relies on departments to run premier division teams having players with permanent yet often meagre salaries. Unlike clubs, departments don’t aim to take the sport forward, push for excellence, or generate revenues. All rich and poor departments have a set budget to spend on their teams, without needing any grassroots football structures. A workable system requires an overhauled PFF run on a corporate model that generates revenue through TV rights and sponsorships in order to distribute down the system into clubs/academies. Instead, authorities provide paltry funds to provincial FAs and pretend that departments are professional clubs. Good luck competing globally!
Why the above is important in context of ‘Players of Lyari’ is that our domestic football has suffered for years. Despite all of Karachi’s football culture, right now not more than three players from the mega city make the Pakistan national team. Petty politics of local football continue in a city of nearly 20 million with no official league of its own and its clubs mainly take part in random invitational tournaments just to stay active. Karachi’s departments have declined in football standards, winning only one national league title in the last 15 years. Then there is a mentality issue as many point out: footballers from Karachi’s rundown neighbourhoods seldom aim to become a Pakistani football superstar. Most just want a national team cap under their belt to land a departmental job and stick to their comfort zone. Drugs and bad diet also mean many young Lyari players fail to develop past junior levels.
Players need drive, ambition and role models to make an impact today. The local football structure has to change requiring investment and a holistic approach with stakeholders on and off the pitch. The dust-bowl local football grounds and security forces occupying Lyari’s Peoples Football Stadium are all factors that would discourage any budding player. A perfect opportunity came a decade back to invest in Lyari when FIFA awarded a Goal Project worth $600,000, but PFF decided to build it in Hawkesbay — 20km away. Today, the Hawkesbay project tells a story of dysfunction with no accountability.
Lyari comes under Karachi’s District Football Association-South that has nearly 100 registered active football clubs (the majority of them from Lyari). Yet they struggle to produce the next superstar. None of these clubs are professional and there is no clear pathway for them to reach the top divisions of Pakistani football. In fact, no club from Karachi/Sindh has a route to the top because of its dysfunctional structure. Karachi’s most professionally-run club Karachi United had to register as a department to enter the 2nd division PFF League. So much for promoting club culture! KUFC over the years have worked tirelessly in Lyari and beyond running grassroots programs. K-Electric runs a Lyari youth league even though the department itself lacks a youth system.
Lyari is a Pakistan Peoples Party fortress with Sindh Football Association and PFF also under PPP politicians. Maybe they can urge their politician-football administrators to do something for this troubled neighbourhood. The younger generation needs something to believe in, and a better football environment to pursue a competitive career. Otherwise, Lyari football will remain stuck in the past and all that passion will continue to be worth nought.
The writer tweets @Shanny476