Departmental teams contribute to ensure football survives after FIFA ban [DAWN]

Departmental teams contribute to ensure football survives after FIFA ban [DAWN]

by Umaid Wasim

KARACHI: It was in some ways a sign of how football has fallen on hard times in Pakistan.

At a dilapidated KMC Stadium, regarded by many as the ‘Mecca of football’ in the country, the stadium’s caretaker announced that the inaugural Naya Nazimabad Quaid-i-Azam Departmental Football Tournament will kick off from Sunday.

Former FIFA referee Ahmed Jan, who manages the iconic venue and is the organising secretary of the event, said the event was being organised to revive football in the country in the wake of FIFA’s ban on Pakistan.

“Many are worried about the future of the game in the country especially after the ban,” said Jan at the news conference arranged on the pitch of the stadium which he so dearly loves but whose broken stands and torn down walls make it hard to imagine that it witnessed some of Pakistan’s most glorious footballing moments.

“And, therefore, we decided to organise a departmental tournament to keep football alive in the country,” added Jan.

The bid to keep alive football meant that eight of the 16 participating teams have contributed Rs 25,000 each. An additional amount of Rs200,000 from the title sponsors meant the tournament could take place.

“Initially, we planned to keep the tournament only for teams from Sindh,” Jan informed. “But then there was interest from Punjab and Balochistan and so we expanded the tournament and now we are here, ready to kick off this festival of football.”

For departments like four-time national champions Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) and Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC), this tournament was the need of the hour.

“We need opportunities to play,” KRL manager Ayaz Butt told Dawn on Thursday. “We need such tournaments to keep football going and that’s why we’ve contributed to ensure this goes ahead.”

The organisers had to overcome some hurdles in the way too.

When the idea of the tournament was being floated around, Sindh Football Association (SFA) general secretary Rahim Baksh Baloch sent out a letter threatening players, officials and referees with legal action if they take part in the tournament.

Rahim is a supporter of Faisal Saleh Hayat, the president of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) recognised by global football body FIFA.

Jan contested Rahim’s move by threatening him with legal action for sending out the letter, saying he had permission from the PFF administrator appointed by the Lahore High Court, who FIFA doesn’t approve of and therefore banned Pakistan last month for what it termed ‘third-party interference’.

The administrator was appointed by the court after a full blown dispute in the PFF in the run-up to its presidential election in June 2015, which saw it break into two factions.

That has seen football suspended in the country. The Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) hasn’t taken place since the 2014-15 edition. A few national level tournaments have been organised since while the Hayat faction went to court to stop the administrator from holding football events.

The tournament being organised by Jan in cooperation with District Football Association South Karachi is the first in the city since the National Bank President’s Cup in January.

“The teams are trying to survive by playing in these tournaments,” Jan said. “If there is no football then the departments will close these football teams. Some departments have already done that. The step taken by the SFA would only have damaged football further.”

Jan also invited the SFA to resolve their differences. “With this tournament we want to unite all five districts of Karachi and bring football people together.”

SFA’s move was also ironic because they were also backing a ‘players association’ launched by former Pakistan captain Mohammad Essa aimed at ensuring footballers don’t lose their livelihood during Pakistan football’s current predicament.

Jan, meanwhile, was hoping the tournament will also put the spotlight on the crumbling state of the KMC Stadium.

“It is in serious need of a huge cash injection,” Jan said, appealing to the Karachi Metropolitan Cooperation to release funds for the renovation work due for years, “… or we will lose this monument of football.”

Despite a desperate need of funds, Jan’s efforts are ensuring that the legacy of the KMC Stadium continues to survive. The departmental teams meanwhile are providing funds, albeit small, to ensure football survives in these bleak times.

Participating teams: Khan Research Laboratories, National Bank of Pakistan, Karachi Port Trust, Sui Southern Gas Company, Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited, Ashraf Sugar Mills, Gwadar Port Authority, Karachi United, Pakistan Public Works Department, Sindh Government Press, Pakistan Steel Mills, Pak-Afghan Clearing Agency, Pakistan International Airlines, Muslim Trading Chaman, Sindh Police, Asia Ghee Mills Bahawalpur.

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2017