A major breakthrough? [TNS]

A major breakthrough? [TNS]

by Alam Zeb Safi

It still seems quite unbelievable that Pakistan will get the honour of hosting football wizard and Brazil’s 2002 FIFA World Cup winning squad member Ronaldinho this summer. The World Group and Leisure League Pakistan last Thursday announced that the global hero would be in Karachi after Eid-ul-Fitr. The former Barcelona attacking midfielder the other day had tweeted that he would be coming to Pakistan in July.

As several foreign cricketers refused to play in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) final in Lahore early this month due to security issues, bringing a mega star like Ronaldinho is indeed a major effort.

If undertaken, it would be the first time in the history of Pakistan when such a footballer of global repute would tour the country which has been hit hard by terrorism over the years. The successful staging of the PSL also seems to have contributed in the bid. The World Group is doing the effort to create a much-needed hype for its Leisure League which is being launched in Pakistan by Leisure League Pakistan, a World Group company.

Ronaldinho would be accompanied by a galaxy of international stars. Former England goalkeeper David James and former Dutch player George Boateng would also be among the touring party. The star-studded side, which would be led by Ronaldinho, will play an exhibition match with the top crop of Leisure League Pakistan.

The organisers have confirmed the arrival of all the eight foreign players. TouchSky Group, an agency licensed by the English Football Association in London are the official match, player and production architects and will produce the star-studded event.

It’s Chief Operating Officer Ahmer Kunwar has said that Ronaldinho’s arrival in Pakistan will galvanise football creating a hope for many talented individuals.

The organisers will soon contact the government and law-enforcing agencies to pave way for the visit of Ronaldinho who is expected to stay for three days in Karachi.

The Leisure League Pakistan aims to launch its league, in the initial step, in Karachi, Islamabad, and Lahore. They aim to expend it to 23 different cities of the country, also including Chaman, Balochistan, which is the biggest nursery of football in the country. Hundreds of grounds are being prepared, with thousands of pitches and the organisers say that for the inaugural year around 100,000 players would be involved in the Leisure League. They say that foreign teams would also come to Pakistan and Pakistan team in future may also get an opportunity to take part in the small-side football World Cup.

The organisers claim that small entry fee has been kept for the purpose. The kits would be provided to the teams by the organisers. It would totally be a web-based event and after every match the players would be able to see their results on the internet. Even overage players would be able to play in the week-end matches which would be of 26 minutes duration. Unlike the real football, small-side football competitions have different rules.

The organisers said that in near future a club from England would arrive in Pakistan for a series. They are of the opinion that the initiative of launching Leisure Leagues would bring in a social revolution in Pakistan.

They said that top players could also be sent abroad for education on scholarship.  Establishing training and coaching academies are also in the plans.

The organisers have also hired the services of coach Luis Rodrigues of Portugal for the whole project. He would stay in Pakistan. He would give a detailed blue print and would help players and coaches to hone their skills.

Before discussing other factors let’s put a cursory look on the Leisure Leagues. It is the world’s largest 5,6,7-a-side amateur football leagues, headquartered in Birmingham and is the part of the World Group.

Initially limited to England and Ireland, Leisure Leagues have now decided to expand their brand to the rest of the world.

Interestingly the Leisure League is being brought to Pakistan at a time when football activities in the country have experienced a major halt since April 2015 because of a power-tussle between the two groups. The case is in the Supreme Court. During the last two years Pakistan has not been able to feature in any international event because of the dispute.

Besides missing international tours Pakistan also failed to organise its Premier League for the last two years, a huge loss for the players.

It would have been difficult for the Leisure League Pakistan to undertake its activities without taking Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) on board, had the federation been working in the country.

The initiation of the Leisure Leagues would in fact help national players keep themselves fit at a time when they are unable to get any activity. Although it is yet to be known exactly how much the organisers of the Leisure Leagues are serious in their bid to serve Pakistan football but the step, if not purely based on financial interests, may go in Pakistan’s favour in the long run. Its social influence would be enormous and if vigorously expanded to the whole country.

If we look at the other side of the picture then I must say that the step to bring in Leisure Leagues to Pakistan was taken because the country has a potential market in football.

Former Test captain Javed Miandad, who was also present at the briefing on Thursday, said that he could say with guarantee that people would forget cricket if football became popular in Pakistan. He also termed the Leisure League a good step which would help Pakistan football. Let’s see how the things progress as numerous challenges are ahead and how these could be tackled, only time would tell us.

Published in The News on Sunday, 19 March 2017