by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: Football can be more than just a profession, and more of a way to heal, and that can’t be further from truth for Muhammad Kashif, a miner who will be competing at the Socca World Cup in Portugal next month with the Leisure League national championship winning side.
Kashif had been a miner in Machh, Balochistan and had been a part of the Quetta team during the championships.
“It is the Socca World Cup that I’m focused on; I can’t even go to the mines anymore since a tragedy had befallen my family, but I have football,” Kashif told The Express Tribune from Mach. “My younger brother passed away shortly after I played the Leisure Leagues’ national championship final. Just the fact that I was selected for the team that will be competing in Portugal made it better for me. I’m still training at home too. I’ll join the Leisure leagues camp after Eid.”
The Leisure Leagues national championship winners were Lahore club ICAW (I Can and Will). According to the press release, all ten players of ICAW, along with one player from each semi-finalist teams and one player from Street Children Football team has also joined the team to complete the allowed 14-player squad.
The Leisure League national championships have been a life-changing experience for players like Kashif. He was only known to be a miner, working at the coal mines and when the Leisure Leagues began in Baluchistan, he would travel for an hour and a half to Quetta to play football.
“Football is what I know other than mining. After my younger brother’s passing away in a road accident I took a step back, but I know that this sport is a part of my life now,” said Kashif, who has joined the team in Lahore too, where former men’s and women’s national coach Tariq Lutfi is training the squad, with another Iranian coach who specialises in shorter format of seven-a-side game.
“Leisure leagues came in as a surprise for me, at this time in life, I even got my passport made, it will be a great experience, and I may get to make better choices for myself in life,” said Kashif. “More kids from my area want to play football now; they want to see opportunities through football. I feel it can be an example. But we all love football, because it is the only sport we know.”
Pakistan has been placed in Group ‘B’ along with Spain and Russia. The fourth team in the group is Moldova.
On the other hand, Leisure Leagues chief operating officer Ishaq Shah added that it is a first for everyone with this venture and he is hoping that it will promote football in Pakistan.
“I just want people to know that we are competing,” said Shah. “Every single person who gets to participate in it, their family and friends, their community, they will know that there’s a career in football too. Hopefully with success in Portugal, maybe the government can see the potential of our footballers as well.”
Shah admitted that Pakistan is placed in a tough group but Leisure Leagues have tried to make a balanced team representing all the parts of the country.
Chairman World Group that owns Leisure Leagues Pakistan, Mehmood Trunkwala has advised players to work diligently and improve their game before the football extravaganza in Lisbon and wished them best of luck and also hoped that the team will perform well.
The Socca World Cup will feature 32 teams that are divided into eight groups of four teams each. The top two sides will qualify for last-16 knockout round.
The final will be played on September 29.