PFF’s signal achievement

From: Pakistan Today

Lahore: While most national sporting bodies – among them the leading lights in terms of public acclaim and media coverage, cricket and hockey – are finding it exceptionally difficult to get foreign teams to visit Pakistan, the Pakistan Football Federation has been eminently successful in convincing foreign teams to visit us for bilateral series as well as the FIFA and the AFC events.

This is a signal achievement of the PFF, a diplomatic triumph of some magnitude, under Faisal Saleh Hayat’s watch that needs to be acknowledged, howsoever grudgingly.

The facts speak for themselves. Since December 2011, the last five months have seen hectic football activity in our neck of the woods involving many nations. The Bangladesh squad visited us for a FIFA qualifying round game at Lahore. So did the Malyasians.

Then the Palestine team came over for a two-match rubber – for a game apiece at Lahore and Karachi. This followed by Pakistan’s Under-22 squad returning the visit for the ongoing Al-Nakba championship where it acquitted itself reasonably well.

In April 2012 another championship – an Under-14 Festival football festival under the banner of the continental body, the AFC – was held at Islamabad. Here too teams from Afghanistan and Tajikistan attended.

And now in May the AFC President’s Cup (the title itself underscores the prestige attached with the championship) matches featuring Mangolian and Chinese-Taipei clubs along with Pakistan KRL took place at Lahore.

Both the Under-14 Festival and the AFC President’s Cup events were supposed to be held elsewhere in the continent, but the Pakistan Football Federation quickly put its hat in the ring and despite this country being perceived as one blighted with gruesomely horrendous acts of terror, the PFF was able to convince the Asian Football Confederation and win the hosting rights. Some of these matches were also telecast live, in particular the games with Palestine and the AFC President’s Cup.

It was not as if Pakistan – despite its pariah status as a destination for most international teams – was an automatic choice. Pakistan indeed had to fight for it, with many others equally desirous of hosting the AFC championships. Even for the FIFA qualifying round, Bangladesh was not indeed keen to visit Pakistan.

But the PFF stood its ground, absolutely unyielding. It invited the FIFA security men to check its arrangements with regards to the well-being and comfort of the visitors. Once it got the thumbs up from that quarter, there was no excuse left for the Bangladeshis. Unlike cricket, nobody even went to court to get a stay order – for that would have invited FIFA’s wrath. And hell hath no fury to match FIFA’s in case any member digresses from the trodden path.

And this international activity is not the only thing the PFF engages in. It is constantly growing in its influence on how the game takes shape in this country. And this involves a host of activities. Such as training and grooming of age-group teams, in both genders, and overseeing their development. This is a cumbersome task in itself. But this by no means is the only tough part. Add to it the organisational affairs and training and development of coaches, organisation of events at all tiers – again in both genders – and the task is indeed awesome.

The PFF is doing it increasingly well, and Pakistan football is definitely progressing – though the growth given our state of backwardness can only be incremental and in relative terms – especially given the resources that as a nation we dedicate to football. This is something that needs to be understood and appreciated.

FPDC adds:

Malaysia, Palestine, and Bangladesh visited Pakistan for football matches in 2011, not 2012 as this article implies.