By Assam Sani, FPDC Correspondent, Lahore
In a country where cricket is considered as the nation’s second religion, it is hard to focus on other sports. Especially if that other sport is football, who has always been the adopted child in the family, lurking in the shadows of cricket. It gets hard to get behind the team when there is in house fighting in the federation, when you see your national team slump down to the lowest ever ranking in our history and especially when India is doing better than us. However, being Pakistani there is one thing that will always get in the way of all the bad and the ugly and that is our passion.
When we decide to love something from the core of our hearts, we are capable of ignoring all the flaws of that thing no matter what. Case in point sports in Pakistan, despite being in shambles we are undoubtedly a sports loving country and despite the problems, we love our football. Granted that our love for not just the beautiful game but almost all sports have suffered in recent times due to the security situation and a severe lack of international level events but step out on to the streets and you won’t go a long way before spotting the familiar stripes of Barcelona’s shirt, a Manchester United car sticker here, an Ozil jersey there but while loving all these foreign teams and stars we neglected our own Shaheens. Not anymore!
The same generation that grew up watching Zidane and Co to idolizing Messi and Ronaldo is now slowly but surely turning its attention towards the green shirts. The recent rise of the love of football and the attention local football has received has been immense and everyone wants in on the action.
Last year the hype went through the roof with the arrival of Ronaldinho and friends. This year things are going a step further, the FIFA World Cup Trophy is coming to Pakistan! Coca-Cola, the official FIFA World Cup sponsors, are taking the trophy on a worldwide tour and it lands in Pakistan this week. The trophy will be displayed at the Coke Food Fest being held in Lake City in Lahore on the 3rd of February. It is an unprecedented honor to host the world cup trophy the likes of which Pakistani football has never seen before; an honor that all football playing nations in the world would like to have.
The fact that Coca-Cola, one of the biggest brands of the world, is investing its resources in Pakistani football could be the light at the end of a long dark tunnel that we might finally be coming out of. It is great to see that last year’s visit of Ronaldinho and Friends is not being looked at as one off and other brands see the love and potential of football in the country and are willing to invest more in Pakistan in order to promote the beautiful game even more.
Efforts like these, especially with Coca-Cola being involved and sponsoring the event, sends out a clear signal that despite all the problems we are facing at the moment, we are getting back on our feet and who knows perhaps in the not so distant future more brands would make an effort to invest more in football the way Coca-Cola now and Leisure Leagues before it has done.
As for us, it is a lifelong dream of any football fan to watch the world cup not just on the TV but from inside the stadiums where the games are being played, join the global month long party that goes on and experience the true flavor of football no matter where it is being played and to see the actual trophy in Pakistan, be it for a day, is nothing short of a miracle.
Even though for Pakistani fans seeing their own team in the world cup could be a very distant dream but the lack of our team in the tournament does not dampen our love of the game and turn us away from the biggest sports event in football, it makes us want to watch the world cup even more, dream even harder and hope with much more conviction that one day we might be cheering for our own team in a FIFA world cup.
Until then, however, all is not lost. Our team might not be playing in the world cup but nothing can stop us from participating in it as fans and participate we will because you might be able to keep sports out of Pakistan but you can never keep Pakistan out of sports!