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Football fever is sweeping the globe and its epicenter is the Qatari capital Doha. Major upsets like the Saudi win over Argentina have rattled teams that were thinking it will be a walkover on Asian teams and as usual the finals will be between Europe and South America. Pakistan too has a team which is vital to the success of these games, but it cannot be seen on the playing field.

We are among the 13 countries that are providing security to the championship. These countries include Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, the Palestinian Territories, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey and the United States. This Pakistani security contingent comprises more than 4,000 military, air force and naval personnel. Pakistan is the largest contributor to security at Doha and its security personnel’s duties include securing the stadiums and other important facilities connected to the championship including the hotels hosting teams and visitors.

This security team was given special training in Pakistan by local and foreign experts prior to their posting in Qatar. This however is not the end of our participation in this global event. We have provided what you can call the life of this championship the football itself that you see being kicked around on the championship field. This is not the first time that Pakistan has been entrusted with this most important task of the championships. In the last two championships in 2014 and 2018 it was also Pakistan that provided the footballs which are manufactured in the city of Sialkot which is renowned for its sports goods around the world.

It is not only the footballs used in the championship which total 3,000 but its replica which is sold around the world to 8 million fans. Sadly, such achievements are not made public nor encouraged by the concerned authorities so many of such achievements go unnoticed. If ever there was an achievement deserving some national honor on days when such awards and honors are randomly distributed, it is the makers of these footballs in Sialkot. It is not only the concerned manufacturer of footballs that has gained by this championship next door. Hundreds of thousand flags of participating countries have also been shipped from Pakistan as well as other memorabilia. We did not play on the field but our footprint on this championship is still worth mentioning.

So what is our background and where do we stand as far as the game itself is concerned. The Pakistan Football Federation came into existence on December 5, 1947 and became a full member of FIFA in early 1948 with Quaid-i-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah as its Patron-in-Chief.

Football previous to this had a long history in the Indian subcontinent. It was introduced to South Asia in the mid-19th Century during the British Raj. It soon caught the imagination of the population and so profound were its effects on British India that the 3rd oldest running football competition, after the English FA Cup and Scottish FA Cup, is the Durand Cup that is still contested annually in India ever since its inauguration in 1888. The first FIFA-organized national football championship was held in Karachi in 1948 with Sindh Reds defeating the Sindh Blues in the final of the tournament!

How many of us can recall that football in the subcontinent was played barefoot. Yes barefoot and the players were so used to playing barefoot that they could not play otherwise. It was during that time that the Indian football team visited Brazil where they were invited to participate in the 1950 world cup. The Indian team found it unacceptable that its rivals were wearing shoes. Their protests were in vain. Not only the shoes of their rival team were allowed but they too were prohibited to play without wearing shoes. Pakistan team had better luck in Iran where they too asked to play barefoot in the match on the occasion of birthday celebrations of the Shah of Iran. The request was accepted and the Shah and his family saw the whole match with a bemused expression as Pakistan lost 5 to 1 in the contest.

There’s a remote chance Pakistan will be playing in the next world cup in 2026 but there are strong chances that the country might be in the world cup in 2030. Pakistan’s return to the international arena was made possible when FIFA decided to lift the suspension that was imposed on PFF in April 2021 due to undue third-party interference.

Conditions imposed for Pakistan’s return to the international football scene are reminiscent of FATF (Financial Action Task Force) as ‘the PFF was also informed that any undue interference in its affairs or action that could hinder the fulfillment of the mandate of the normalization committee might lead to the PFF being suspended again and/or the imposition of other sanctions provided for in the FIFA Statutes’. A silver lining is that the World Cup will be increased to 48 teams from 2026 which gives Pakistan a good opportunity to qualify for the event. Let us keep our fingers crossed and hope that soon in addition to making footballs we will actually be playing with them amidst the roar of Pakistani fans frantically waving Pakistani flags.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

Zia Ul Islam Zuberi

The writer is a well-known columnist and Head of Corporate Communication at Nutshell Communications

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