by Alam Zeb Safi
KARACHI: With the 2018 FIFA World Cup just around the corner in Russia, a senior official of Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) on Friday expressed optimism about Pakistan’s possible progression to the world’s biggest tournament in its 2026 edition.
“If football got support of the government and corporate sector and we also kept doing well then we have a chance to qualify for the 2026 FIFA World Cup,” PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Lodhi told ‘The News’ from Lahore.
“Mostly the nations playing in the World Cup deal football as their national sport and invest in that,” Lodhi was quick to add. “If our government and corporate sector kept only feeding cricket as usual then there is no chance,” he said.
The PFF under its Vision 2022 had set the goal to qualify for the 2022 Qatar World Cup. But that target remained elusive as three crucial years were wasted due to the conflict between the federation and its rivals.
“Three years is a long time. Meeting the target set in Vision 2022 is now not possible,” he said. Lodhi, along with PFF president Faisal Saleh Hayat and Congress member Robina Irfan, will witness the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Moscow next week.Two official bids to host the event have been submitted to FIFA: one by Canada, Mexico and the United States, and another by Morocco.
On June 13, 2018, the 68th FIFA Congress in Moscow will decide which country or countries will host the biggest tournament of football. The tournament will be the first to feature 48 teams.
Pakistan football players remained inactive from May 2015. The country also failed to hold its premier league for three successive seasons. During the period, FIFA suspended PFF for third party interference before the courts restored the federation after which the suspension was removed.
Pakistan will return to international action in this summer’s Asian Games to be held in Indonesia. The team camp is in operation in Lahore under the Brazilian coach Jose Antonio Nogueira.
Brazilian trainer Jose Portella is busy getting the footballers into a better shape ahead of the Asiad to be held in Jakarta and Palembang from August 18 to September 2.The fact that more teams would be competing in the 2026 World Cup has added to the optimism of Lodhi about Pakistan’s progression to the global event.
Pakistan stand 201st as per FIFA World Rankings released on June 7, 2018. “First, we will have to qualify for the Asian Cup. We have to go a long way,” Lodhi said. He added that in order to achieve the goal of qualifying for World Cup a lot of work would have to be done.
“First, we will try to make our league professional so that players could earn good money. In three to five years we will be able to do that. Foreign players will be inducted into the league,” Lodhi said.“From next season club licencing will also be made effective,” the official said.
Lodhi said that Pakistan had potential to become a football market. “It’s wrong that there is no market. A youngster with an MBA degree is unable to get a job of Rs30,000 monthly salary here but our footballers get Rs80,000 or more which shows that there is a potential market,” Lodhi said.
But they would have to make it more competitive, he was quick to add. The PFF has severed ties with the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) over certain matters of the national sports policy. Both fought a lengthy legal battle in the last few years.
The PML-N government had strained relations with the PFF being led by Hayat, who belongs to its rivals. If the PFF is to improve football it will need to establish strong relations with the government. Lodhi expects they will have cordial relations with the next government. “We hope we will have good relations with the next government if any other party forms it,” Lodhi said.