by Muna Habib
Leicester: Pakistan is renowned for its football industry in Sialkot that exported over 42 million balls ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2014,but the country’s national team has never drawn much attention on field in international football.
It languishes at 201 out of 211 in FIFA’s international football ranking.
A 26-year-old Pakistani football enthusiast,who has secured a spot on the prestigious FIFA Masters course at De Montfort University, Leicester, U.K, aims to change this poor state of affairs of the sport in the country.
Khadija Kazmi is the first Pakistani woman to have secured a place among the 32 students selected for the class of 2018 from among hundreds of young football enthusiasts from around the world.
Describing the urgent need for investment in Pakistan’s football, Kazmi says, “the situation has become very bleak – without a local federation to regulate the sport and in the absence of sports education at schools and universities level and of a national-level infrastructure.”
Although Pakistan has been affiliated with FIFA since 1948, it did not compete in a FIFA World Cup qualifying competition until 1989 – and then failed to qualify for Italy 1990.
This downward trajectory continued: the national team failed to qualify for South Africa 2010 when they were defeated in the opening round by Iraq 7-0. More recently, the team lost to Yemen 3-1 in qualifiers for Russia 2018.
Kazmi hopes that the education and skills she will acquire during the course of her studies will aid her mission to improve football standards in Pakistan and encourage other women to play the sport.
Kazmi grew up in Karachi where she played football sporadically with her cousins – all boys.
It was not until 2010, whilst studying for a degree in Business Administration, when Kazmi was approached by Diya Women’s Karachi, a football club, and invited to play football regularly. However, she soon became frustrated with the lack of technique and training. She searched the Internet for videos to help improve her football technique and skills. “Everything I learnt was from the Internet,” she said, it was this drive to improve her skills and the death of a friend that encouraged her to establish a women football club with help from an NGO, Karachi United (KU). “KU already had a team for boys,” she said.
Kazmi, initially proposed to develop girls’ football in the local area of the KU club. But realised soon enough that ‘if we wanted to develop the industry – to make football a national success – we needed to get others involved from outside the club as well’. Thus, she and her team developed a football programme for girls aged three-to-18 years in Sindh. Children as young as four-years old travelled to attend the programme from surrounding towns including Lyari and OrangiTown. “Some commuted for up to three hours to participate in training sessions,” she said.
Describing the challenges faced by girls playing football in Pakistan, she said, “culturally people are used to boys playing sport but not girls.” Her own family expected her,’to do something a bit more serious with my life,’ she said.
Pakistani families are slowly adapting to the idea of their girls playing football. “They’re still not allowed to play out in the open – usually indoors in a school – where there is a wall and some boundaries,” she said.
Discrimination and fear remains a resounding concern for girls who want to play football in Pakistan. “We still have girls telling their parents, they are going to study and then come and join us to play football instead,” she said. She hopes one day “all women have the right to play football in Pakistan without being judged’.
Controversy that cost Pakistan its FIFA membership: Kazmi’s football skills and education are increasingly needed in Pakistan. Last month, FIFA suspended Pakistan Football Association (PFF) from its world governing body for not adhering to its “obligations under Articles 14 and 19 of the FIFA statutes.” Following its suspension, the PFF’s national and affiliated club members cannot participate in international competitions until the suspension is lifted.
The PFF wrangling began back in April 2015, when PFF President, Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat – appointed in 2003, under Pervez Musharraf, was controversially elected for a third term. Hayat is accused by PFF members of embezzling funds, rigging in the Punjab Football Association elections, whilst in the presence of an Asian Football Confederation official, as well as attempting to manipulate the PFF congress to grant himself another term in June 2015 elections. The matter ended up in the Lahore High Court (LHC). Judges appointed an administrator- an infraction of FIFA’s rules -but will resume hearing in matter in December.
Plan for reinstatement: During a telephone interview, Federal Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Mian Riaz Pirzada said, “once a judgement has been passed by the LHC next month, we will ask PFF to hold a fresh election and then approach FIFA for reinstatement.”
Corruption, lack of infrastructure and organisation have all been attributed to Pakistan’s dismal international ranking. Pirzadasays he wants to change this perception, his team has sent a budget proposal in excess of Rs10 million, to Prime Minister Shahid Khan Abbasi.
Approval of the budget would see increased government investment into the sport – at a par with Hockey and Cricket. Thus, establishment of national infrastructure and training facilities will then be possible, particularly in Balochistandistricts and Karachi “where you find the best football players of the country,” Pirzada says. “Pakistan has huge talent that is lost to the UAE and Qatar, because we do not pay the same wages or invest in infrastructure for the sport,” he added, “those countries understand the skills, investment and training required to produce world class players.”
Hoping to ignite Pakistan’s football passion, the world’s greatest footballers descended on Karachi this summer to participate in an exhibition match. Speaking about the visit, Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs says, “we’ve seen with our own eyes, the desire from the fans and the young players of Pakistan to become footballers and the interest in football.” He added, “we hope to send a message around the world that Pakistan is a good place to come.”