FootballPakistan.Com (FPDC) chief editor Ali Ahsan recently got in touch with renowned football organiser and enthusiast Master Riasat Ali for an in-depth interview via telephone from his native city of Nawabshah in Sindh.
Usually football in Pakistan is considered a sport in desperate need of proper sponsorship and support, but Master Riasat Ali’s selfless dedication to football in Sindh has proven to be a major exception.
A humble school headmaster by profession, Master Riasat Ali has achieved tremendous success in organising mega tournaments across Sindh for over 25 years now, many of them with full support from major multi-national corporations and companies.
1. How did you get into football? Can you tell us about your background and career as a player?
I was born on 13 May 1960 and am a native of Nawabshah, Sindh. I loved football from a very early age and started my career as a player in a team called Javed Shaheed FC of Nawabshah and became a local favourite.
But in 1985, my football career was badly affected because of a broken arm I suffered in an accident that effectively ended my playing career.
After recovering from the injury, I was not the same player I used to be and played on and off till 1990 when I decided to call it quits and become a football organiser instead as I did not want to give up my love of football.
By profession, I am an educationist and just a regular school teacher. Currently, I am headmaster at the Government Primary School for Boys at the Police Lines HQ in Nawabshah city.
Education and sports have given me tremendous honour and recognition across not just Nawabshah but also rest of Sindh and Pakistan too.
2. What is your favourite team and player in the football world?
As a youth, I absolutely loved the Argentina team and regarded legendary Diego Maradona as one of my heroes. However, I enjoy watching today’s football too and supported Portugal in the EURO 2012 tournament. My current favourite player is Cristiano Ronaldo.
3. What made you decide to become a football organiser and promoter?
The injury in 1985 had a bad affect on my playing career but I refused to abandon my love of football. So I thought about organising tournaments at local level. In fact, my first ever tournament was just 3 months after I got injured and with my arm in a sling, I organised a successful local tournament involving teams from the entire Nawabshah District in 1985.
Afterwards, as my playing career winded down over the next few years, I became increasingly involved in organising football events not just at district level but also across Sindh as well.
From the 1990s to this day, I have personally organised many major All-Sindh football tournaments featuring the top sides from all districts of Sindh (including Karachi).
4. Which parts of Pakistan have you organised tournaments and how much support have you gained?
At the moment, my focus has remained on Sindh but I have a strong desire to organise tournaments across Pakistan, especially in Punjab and Balochistan.
The successful tournaments helped bring in major sponsorship and financial support from local civil society as well as major companies interested to give support for sports events. Also, my links in the education sector boosts my profile even further as major companies like to combine their support for education and sports together.
Major corporations like Unilever Pakistan, who used to be known as Lever Brothers back in the 1990s, and PSO (Pakistan State Oil) regard my football organisation skills as an asset and have contributed a lot of their support and sponsorship for the All-Sindh tournaments I did. There was a time in which I would be organising as many as 3 major All-Sindh football events in a year!
In 1996, one of my biggest ever tournaments was the All-Sindh Sardar Khan Rind Memorial Football Tournament in which 24 of the best sides across Sindh took part. Lever Brothers sponsored that tournament with a Rs 1 Lakh sponsorship and the winning side receiving a glittering ‘Lipton Trophy’. Similarly in 1995, was the ‘Tapal Trophy’ awarded for the All-Sindh Abdul Sattar Memorial Football Tournament.
In recent times, Unilever have maintained their trust in me and in 2010 they gave Rs 3.5 lakh for the All-Sindh Clear Men Football Tournament featuring 16 sides. Also, I managed to help secure a Rs 35,000 sponsorship from PSO for a major Karachi club Young Baloch FC who are based in the Gabol Park area of Lyari Town.
I do not demand, nor have I spent a single penny from these tournaments on myself nor do I want any personal gain from them. In fact, my in-laws often complain and joke about my focus on football when I do not even possess any personal property under my own name.
I just want football to be supreme in Pakistan and I am confident football will itself reward me eventually in life.
In fact, my organisational skills have also made me close friends with renowned journalist and organiser and FPDC staffer Riaz Ahmed from Karachi. I have frequently given my services for securing vital sponsorships for any events done in Karachi as well.
In fact it was on my insistence that Riaz Ahmed was formally invited to become media manager for covering the All-Sindh Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Football Tournament that was held in Dadu back in June 2011. I made sure Riaz Ahmed was given a good wage for his services and given a nice place to stay in Dadu for the entire tournament.
I really admire and appreciate Riaz Ahmed’s efforts to football and hopefully both of us can join forces to help boost football even further in the near future.
5. What support have the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) and the Sindh Football Association (SFA) provided for your football activities?
None. They have never contributed and neither have I ever asked for some financial contributions from PFF, Sindh FA or the various District FAs. I only seek their formal recognition towards my tournaments for the official record keeping.
Instead, senior officials in almost every district and provincial FAs, as well as the PFF ask support from me and want me to help organise their football.
My tournaments are organised solely from the company sponsors and private contributions because of the trust the private sector has towards my success as an organiser and my reputation as a ‘sponsorship magnet’.
Frankly speaking, large companies are more than happy to provide financial support towards football events in Pakistan, but they have strong reservations about people running the game. The performance of these officials has been mediocre and disappointing and that is why companies would rather trust independent organisers like me.
6. What other problems have you faced in the organisation and promotion of football in your life?
Greed, selfishness, and dishonesty among most football authority figures who use and abuse their power for personal gain.
Interestingly enough, the Sindh FA made me its Marketing Manager in 2010 solely because of my links with private companies and corporations. They managed to secure a lucrative sponsorship worth Rs 4,95,000 for some events from PSO solely because of my efforts and my reputation among the PSO marketing department.
My reward for helping Sindh FA was that I got sidelined a few months later because of political rivalries among senior officials who felt ‘threatened’ by my presence. So rather than sticking around and feel humiliated, I resigned from the post and left Sindh FA.
Yet such officials still use my support for their football election campaigns and small events but they provide mere token support to my own hard work. They acquire my support, and then discard me as if I am an unknown
In fact, many times various senior officials of football has often asked me to ‘share’ the sponsorship money with them in exchange for their support but I have refused each time. My commitment to my sponsors, organisers, and teams is paramount and I detest such officials who have ruined football in Pakistan. I always stick to my values of honesty and fair play.
These people running the game do not have the vision or commitment to convince companies to provide them with funds and sponsorship. They are the sole reason football remains in such a bad state to this day.
7. How important is youth development in football?
I have realised now youth development is the most important area of football today. The youth is our future and their nurturing is most important in football. With the appropriate guidance and opportunities, such fresh talent can bring about great players that can make us all proud.
This is the reason why I am now increasingly focusing in organising events for U14 and U16 levels, primarily for school, colleges, and youth clubs. Would you believe that large companies are very keen in supporting such endeavours for the youth and have offered me their full backing.
You will hear about my projects for youth football soon enough and I am confident of their success.
8. What suggestions do you have about improving the standard of football at local and national level?
We need proper planning and sincerity from the football authorities. The need to reform the domestic system and make it more competitive and more open to private/corporate participation is key. When system is working, and dedicated people run football, then the game will succeed at local and national level which no one has ever imagined.
The need for responsible, visionary, and gutsy people are needed to help football progress so that past mistakes of mismanagement and corruption can be overturned. This will in turn convince public, private, and corporate support to football in Pakistan.
I request PFF and all provincial and district FAs to sincerely bring about change and reform the system and bring dedicated people who can leave a permanent mark of progress in the game. The time is ripe for change.
9. Any words you have to say to young footballers as well as followers of FootballPakistan.Com (FPDC) out there?
I wish the young kids all the best. Football is a passion and culture of the world. It brings healthy activity and teaches good discipline for all people. Makes their minds and bodies fitter and stronger, and builds a happy and proactive society free from social problems and ills.
I wish FPDC the best and i really appreciate their hard work to bring awareness and change in Pak football and help bring Pakistanis around the world to pay attention and appreciate the growing and changing football culture of Pakistan. I feel honoured about the opportunity of having this interview as this is the first time the media has taken due attention for my hard work to football.
With your encouragement and support I will keep on working hard for the game for all of Pakistan.