‘World Cup Trophy Tour is first step towards developing football in Pakistan’ [Dawn]

‘World Cup Trophy Tour is first step towards developing football in Pakistan’ [Dawn]

by Umaid Wasim

LAHORE: For years Pakistan football has been seeking from the corporate sector, the officials in charge of the sport lamenting the lack of sponsorship. Not anymore it seems.

A top-tier FIFA sponsor on Thursday said it was committed to developing football in Pakistan, with the first step seeing it bring the iconic FIFA World Cup Trophy to the country for the first time.

Soft drinks manufacturing company Coca Cola, also the official partners of the World Cup Trophy Tour, confirmed at a ceremony it would bring this iconic piece of footballing history — famously lifted by Argentine legend Diego Maradona, held aloft by Italian great Fabio Cannavaro and kissed by the Brazilian phenomenon Ronaldo — to Lahore on February 3.

And the initiative received a ringing endorsement from the country’s footballers.

“Football has been stagnant in the country for the last three years,” Pakistan women’s football team captain Hajra Khan told Dawn. “This is great initiative which will hopefully bring the game out of the predicament it currently finds itself in.”

What Hajra was referring to is the fact that after a controversial election of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) in 2015, there has been no major football activity in the country. The dispute over the election saw the Lahore High Court (LHC) intervene to resolve the matter and subsequently in October last year, FIFA banned the country for “third-party interference”.

But the company bringing the World Cup Trophy isn’t concerned by what goes on in the country’s football governing body even though the PFF body — recognised by FIFA — claiming previously that the Trophy Tour programme would be affected if the ban wasn’t lifted.

“We’re in this to develop this fast-growing sport,” its country manager Rizwan U. Khan told Dawn. “That’s the sole aim and as a first step we’re going to bring the World Cup Trophy to Pakistan.


“This will kick start a whole series of events that we’ve designed to use the potential of Pakistan’s footballers into something fruitful.”

Rizwan spoke about how his company set about convincing FIFA to send the trophy to Pakistan.

“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “The trophy is in high demand with countries all over the world trying their best that they are a stop on the tour as it makes its way to Russia for the World Cup this year.

“But we’ve managed to do that, and the trophy will be on display at a public venue where people can come and see it in real life.”

With only a select group of people — past winners, heads of state and the FIFA president — able to touch the World Cup Trophy, there was a possibility that former players could accompany the trophy to Pakistan.

Rizwan, however, said that wouldn’t be the case.

“For this time, the World Cup Trophy will be the star of the show,” he said. “But hopefully this event will eventually bring international football and its stars to the country.”

While that is a plan for the future, the present will see Copa Coca Cola being launched in Pakistan. The tournament features school teams with the focus on grassroots development and brought to the fore the talents of Zimbabwean football legend Peter Ndlovu.

“We hope it will give youngsters in Pakistan a chance to show their talent and hopefully produce the next crop of Pakistan internationals,” Rizwan added.

A school-level nationwide tournament has, for long, been a pressing need of Pakistan football. The PFF has, for long, blamed the lack of sponsorship to begin that initiative.

But now, while the PFF is mired in its own struggles, a top-tier FIFA sponsor is planning to do all that on its own. And maybe, change the landscape of football in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2018