Pakistani Football can grow from grassroots only

By former PFF Media Manager Agha Ajmal

At the Dasarath Rangsala Stadium, Kathmandu, Pakistan barely managed to outstrip arch rivals India 2-1 in the final to win the first ever SAFF U-16 Football Championship title. The win was the first and only time since 2006 that Pakistan was able to get a title at any age level after the 2006 South Asian Games football gold for Pakistan U-23 under Bahraini coach Salman Ahmed Sharida.

According to Sharida, the information and talent is available but not managed here. The Pakistan U-16 coaching staff of head coach Sajjad Mehmood and Hassan Baloch deserve full credit for the win as they defied all odds and hampered preparations before the tournament to guide the Green Guns to a historic win.

This rare win was only possible due to a long story of hardship and dedication by implementing complete and comprehensive FIFA plans at grassroots level in Pakistan. FIFA made it a global priority of systematic promotion of grassroots football and their main objective for grassroots development  is to bring football to all the people, thus addressing of FIFA’s mission “to develop the game”.

Grassroots football has progressed so much around the world in recent years, regardless of political, religious and cultural environments, but not so in the land of the pure. Though unknown in our country, grassroots football is genuinely popular developed societies and occupies a proud position in the world of sport. Determination and initiative are the driving forces of the development of football around the world.

The promotion and development of grassroots football requires sustained financial assistance; along with much wider commitment to setting up the necessary infrastructures to allow member associations, coaches and participants to take an active role in field football, and has little if any scope for office work, a norm in Pakistan.

Grassroots programme with its matching activities offers  increased opportunities to play football. Interacting, sharing, playing and meeting others – these are all benefits that we promote in grassroots football, while, of course, encouraging enjoyment on the pitch. For some, grassroots football is a recreational activity. For others, it is the practice of football in a club or school or school environment, with regular training and matches that is important.
As said by Mr. Jean-Jacques Rousseau “Nature decrees that children should be children before they become adults. If we try to alter this natural order, they will reach adulthood prematurely but with neither substance nor strength. The main objective of a grassroots football is to play football, learn and have fun rather than sitting in the office planning fund raising. The key is to teach the children the basics of football so that they can develop their own physical and mental capacities through the game while emphasizing enjoyment during training. The guiding principle is to “learn the game through playing”.

Setting up a school football programme is only possible with the total support of the teaching world and educational organizations. Schools are the sole responsible bodies and are exclusively authorized to organize sport in primary schools. It is thus necessary to collaborate in a common project, for example, by setting up a joint association/schools committee in charge of sport and signing an agreement specifying the roles and competences of each party. The various partners involved are teachers, parents, club officials and coach-educators.

Voluntary work is also an important in evolving grassroots football programmes. Member Associations must make efforts to attract volunteers to help with projects. These volunteers can be parents, teachers or community leaders. Even if volunteers do not have a formal role in the Member Association’s structure, their participation can be crucial to the success of grassroots football in Pakistan. Some volunteers are happy to help with the administrative tasks while others prefer to organize tournaments and festivals or simply help with the transport of the children.
Most governments realize benefits of sports, especially football that empower population. Football is a vehicle for the promotion of health, education, team spirit and fair play and drives youth away from narcotics ad extremism. Globally these concepts are also central to national governments objectives and are values upheld by modern societies. The objectives of the grassroots football programme are similar to values promoted by countries (maybe someday in Pakistan):

– Offering the means to practice sport everywhere, in streets, schools, clubs, etc. Football should be accessible to all without reference to gender, race or location.
– Allowing children to play together, with football facilitating communication and exchanges.
– Sport is good for health, promoting as it does strong messages such as well-being, a balanced life and feeling good physically.
– Sport can be a tool for education by teaching: observance of the rules of the game, the practice of exercises and codified play, respect for opponents and partners, the desire to be the best, pushing oneself beyond one’s limits, the joy of winning and coping with the distress of losing, etc.
– Sport is part of life, associated with fun, pleasure and emotion.

Football is usually practiced in clubs. The degree of structure offered by these clubs depends on the economic situation of the country and the development of football (popularity, funding, human resources, volunteers, goodwill and the association’s structures). But football is not only practiced within clubs: football is universal and is played everywhere.

The recent media coverage of street football and the development of Futsal, sometimes associated with the neighborhoods of major cities, reminds us that football is played everywhere that young people have the freedom to express themselves and the means to buy or make a ball. Schools are an important breeding ground for footballers and thus sports are taught as a subject in the majority of educational systems.

For these reasons, it can be seen that sport, and particularly football, forms a natural part of government programmes, for example:
– The national education ministry may promote programmes of football in school curricula. This is reinforced by exchanges and matches between classes and different educational establishments. The ministry may even organize national football days, etc.
– The ministry of youth and sport facilitates access to national sports structures and promotes programmes for the young (children’s day, sports festivals, etc.).
– The ministry of health associates the practice of football with greater well-being, a balanced life, education on nutrition and strong messages against using drugs and other harmful substances, etc.
– Urban policy and the opening up of rural areas is encouraged by organizing or adapting sports events, employing coach-educators, providing opportunities for youngsters to play on recreational days, etc.
– The situation of women: encouraging the practice of football by both genders for young children.
In the end, I would like to say; Pro-active action is the key to overall success.