by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: The FIFA World Cup Trophy is set to come to Pakistan next month, marking it the first time it will come to the country since the world football governing body began sending the iconic piece of silverware on a tour across the globe in the year of its flagship tournament.
Pakistan wasn’t a stop on the quadrennial Trophy Tour since 2006 but the World Cup Trophy will make an appearance in Lahore on February 3 on its journey to the FIFA World Cup in Russia in June this year.
Being brought to the country by FIFA and its Trophy Tour sponsors Coca Cola, it is set to arrive at a time when the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) has been banned by FIFA for “third-party” interference, quashing earlier claims that the suspension will affect the programme.
The day FIFA imposed the ban in October last year, Faisal Saleh Hayat — recognised by FIFA as the PFF chief — claimed that it had ended the chances of the World Cup Trophy from coming to the country.
“Due to my diplomatic efforts in international football, Pakistan had been included among the 50 destinations for the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour but Pakistan will now be excluded from it,” Hayat had claimed in a video posted on social media.
Those claims have been put to rest with a formal announcement on the Trophy Tour to come at a news conference in Lahore on Thursday with the city already marked as a host on the afore-mentioned date on the FIFA website.
Interestingly, while Hayat had claimed that the ban will see FIFA bail out on Pakistan as a host after the ban, one of his close associates had told Dawn four years ago that “FIFA has no say in where the soft-drinks company wants to take the trophy” when asked why Pakistan wasn’t amongst the destinations for the Trophy Tour of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Then, the trophy went to other South Asian countries including Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and India.
Pakistan was banned by FIFA after the Lahore High Court (LHC) intervened following a disputed election of the PFF in 2015 and appointed an administrator to handle the affairs.
The last two years have seen football come to a standstill in the country and while there have been some high-profile football events, including a tour involving Brazilian legend Ronaldinho and others for a series of exhibition matches, it doesn’t get bigger than the fans getting a chance to get up close and personal with the World Cup Trophy.
They can take pictures with the trophy, which will be in a glass case, but no one apart from World Cup winners, the FIFA president and the heads of state can touch it.
It means that there is a chance of some past World Cup winners to accompany the trophy on its journey to Pakistan.
“We’re looking into the options whether we can bring one or two former greats with the trophy,” a person close to the development told Dawn on Wednesday. “We’ll know better once the flans have been finalised.”
The World Cup Trophy has already gone on a tour across Russia and the global phase begins in London on January 22. The World Cup next year, across 11 Russian cities, runs from June 14 to July 15.
Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2018