SAFF scene: In a ‘galaxy of footballing luminaries’ [DAWN]

SAFF scene: In a ‘galaxy of footballing luminaries’ [DAWN]

Umaid Wasim – DAWN

ISLAMABAD: Suddenly it seemed like a mini-AFC Congress with dignitaries left, right and centre.

One had to blink twice to realize this wasn’t Sao Paulo where the last AFC Congress took place.

In a posh hotel lobby in the capital, entered AFC president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa flanked by the secretary of Asia’s football governing body Dato’ Alex Soosay.

SAFF president Kazi Salahuddin was also in attendance — after all this was for the SAFF Women’s Championship.

Also present was the ever-smiling Football Association of Thailand (FAT) president Worawi Makudi and Tengku Abdullah, the honourary president of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) and the president of the Asian Hockey Federation (AHF).

In a country devoid of international sport, this was a “gathering of footballing luminaries”, as Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) president Faisal Saleh Hayat put it. “This is the single biggest women’s sporting event in the history of the country,” Hayat enthused as he spoke to Dawn. “We have so many high-profile dignitaries here under one roof, something people wouldn’t even think could be made possible,” he added.

“This is a major achievement for the PFF and Pakistan in general. We’ve shown that Pakistan is a safe place for hosting international events and I hope that the SAFF Women’s Championship would be a showcase event for the country.”

Soosay too expressed satisfaction at the preparations for SAFF Women’s Championship.“We’re very optimistic about the safety situation in Pakistan and this is why we sanctioned the SAFF Women’s Championships to be held in Islamabad,” he told Dawn.

So optimistic, that he’s willing to award Pakistan the hosting of the AFC U-22 Championships.“We’d be happy if Pakistan asks to host the AFC U-22 Championships, which also serves as the qualifying tournament for the Olympics,” Soosay added.

Hayat confirmed Pakistan plans to bid for hosting of that event. “We’re mulling over bidding for the hosting rights of the AFC U-22 Championships,” he said, “… as that will bring an almost senior team event to our country.”

But what at least the successful hosting of the SAFF Women’s Championships has done is ensured Pakistan will be hosting bigger football events in the future. “I think Pakistan will be an ideal host for the men’s SAFF Championship,” Kazi Salahuddin said.

Maybe it’s the effect of the gathering of luminaries. But nevertheless, things look bright for Pakistan football.

Published in Dawn, November 21th, 2014