Futsal filling vacuum left by football [Express Tribune]

Futsal filling vacuum left by football [Express Tribune]

by Natasha Raheel

KARACHI: ‘When one door closes, another opens’ is the metaphor for Karachi’s football community where not only is it the younger players playing with each other, it is also their families, as the youngsters find answers in futsal with the Pakistan Football Federation suspended by Fifa due to political chaos and third-party interference.

As misunderstood as futsal in Pakistan is, Diya FC players are looking at it as a way to go forward as they played their most recent tournament right before the Ramzan began that featured players from age groups including Under-six, Under-Nine, U12 girls and boys mixed events at Timeout Sports earlier from April 7 till 10. The event was organized by Pakistan Soccer Futsal Federation.

However, it is the short form of the game that the players are looking at to see the light at the end of the tunnel in Pakistani football landscape.

Like Eisha Husain, who has been the best midfielder in the tournament, believes that futsal allows her to play freely as she is able to ‘shoot from any point’.

She has been inspired to take up football first as she saw her older brother play the sport and then her mother supported her in playing too. Her favourtie player is Neymar Jr, who was a futsal player before switching to football full-time.

“In futsal, you have to keep running with the ball and pick it up, I like that I can shoot the ball from any point, and I enjoy playing futsal a lot more,” Eisha told The Express Tribune, as her mother also added that the family supports her and she herself supervises Eisha’s activities and she enjoys watching futsal too, as the game is faster.

Similarly Eisha’s teammate Ali Ahmedjee, 10, and a Lionel Messi fan, likes futsal and football for the sport, and has been playing it for three years along with his brother Mikael.

“I like playing football, like I’d say on a scale of 10, it will be seven,” said Ali. “I love it and I do play as I get to at least three times a week, but I really enjoyed the last tournament too, because I scored.”

The most impressive part about Ali and the boys playing in the tournament has been that at a younger age they did not see the difference between themselves and the girls.

His mother Nausheenis the Vice President for Sindh Women Futsal association and she believes that having girls and boys play together is a practice that is empowering to women especially and it teaches the children to work as a team.

“The girls are phenomenal, much more stronger in terms of their personalities, and at Diya FC and these tournaments I see them coming from different areas playing together and that is empowering them through sports. I’m very happy with the results so far,” said Nausheen, as she added further that as a mother she has seen her children pick up sports very positively and the change in their lives is significant with more discipline and character development.

“They’ve learned a lot through sports. At first they would shy away from even taking up the ball, but now they play confidently.

“As for futsal it is fast-paced, the playing surface is smaller and the younger players are picking it up quickly, but I can say that we are all learning about futsal. The format allows a lot of chances for players to perform, and has intensity when it comes to teamwork and the game also finishes off very quickly. We also see more chances for goals to be scored, so it is a growing sport, and children enjoy it a lot and learn from it too,” said Nausheen.

Meanwhile, Diya FC founder and Pakistan Soccer Futsal Federation official Sadia Sheikh believes that the event is a way to bridge the gender gap in the society and also teach the boys the importance of having girls in their team hoping for a future that is more ‘women friendly’ in Pakistan.

“I am advocating for futsal for a very long time. Even the PFF should have adopted the sport because it helps develop a good footwork for the younger players, it teaches them basics of the game in a better way and it also promotes quick-thinking.

“Of course futsal it different from football, and with the futsal federation we are following the International Futsal federation rules that is AMF rules, so it is different, but the goal of this tournament was to keep the players on their toes, to promote gender equality as well start to change the mind-set. This is important, when these boys will grow up they will learn to respect women better,” said Sadia.

She said that her aim with futsal federation is to get in as many women in the workforce as possible, on every level and she is looking for the referees who can be trained for the sport.

The under-age event also served as the tournament to select players from the national team for futsal, but more importantly Sheikh said that with the football federation being banned, her focus is to invite players and officials alike from football community to join hands and keep pushing for the sport, whether it is football or futsal in the right direction.

“I am ashamed and petrified with the way Fifa house was over-taken during the Fifa-appointed Normalisation Committee’s mandate. All the players, men, women coaches, referees, everyone is losing in this. They don’t understand that this suspension from Fifa is harmful to us all, as football community we are all suffering especially the players who will lose their livelihoods. It is the game that we love, and now we are losing because of politics, not because we don’t play or not work hard enough, this is a huge lose,” said Sheikh.

Her team was playing the PFF National women’s championship when the event was interrupted due to the PFF political fight, as the Ashfaq Hussain Shah group took over the PFF headquarters and threw the NC staff out. Fifa termed the occupation of the headquarters as ‘hostile takeover’.

Rabia Jawwad , who have been a star player for Diya FC, and also played the U14 seven-aside football tournament right before the holy month of Ramazan, believes that the suspension is a dark period for the players, as she herself is a teenager who will lose years if the suspension do not end soon.

“They had to do it during the National Women’s Championship, why couldn’t they wait for it to finish,” said Rabia. “I was thinking they never interrupted or cancelled the men’s tournaments but they had to do it when women were playing.  If they had to fight they could have just fought later.  But of course we can’t do much now.

“But we as players are now playing in shorter format because it is better to play. These are good initiatives, but of course we need more international participation, more scope. Of course when it comes to football, Pakistan was banned before too, but I am hoping that this ends. So far there has never been any government support for us players, whether we play football or now futsal, or shorter formats, but the point is this should change.”

Rabia’s mother Salma, supports her daughter in playing football, and she too believes that for now futsal and shorter formats are serving he players as the game is faster and helps in keeping the players physically fit and running.

For Rabia herself, she thinks Futsal requires more energy and strength.

“We’ve played with boys and we practiced with them. I don’t feel scared when playing with boys, but they do pick the sports up more easily and quickly because they get more opportunities to play. They can play anywhere they want to, for girls it is tough, but we play anyway. I love football and I would want to pursue my career in it,” concluded Rabia.

Published in The Express Tribune, 4 May 2021