All glitter, no gold [Express Tribune]

All glitter, no gold [Express Tribune]

by Natasha Raheel


While many would want to believe that the Fifa World Cup 2022 trophy visit is a good thing for Pakistan, they could not be more wrong.

The is a price that Pakistan have paid when it comes to the Fifa World Cup 2022, and the irony only got richer on June 7 when Pakistani football “stars” claimed that the event will motivate the youth to play football.

The members of the footballing community failed to stand with the labourers who have struggled during the construction of the World Cup stadiums. They didn’t even talk about the reported deaths of “824 migrant workers from Pakistan” among 65,000 from South Asian countries, according to the Guardian.

While the Express Tribune asked the labourers, who went to Qatar, about the human conditions for migrants there, the answer was not favourable at all. The Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are demanding the Fifa to work with Qatar on ‘comprehensive remediation program’ for the harm and damages done to migrant workers.

However, Pakistan’s top midfielder Saaduallah, who had been in Quetta during the trophy tour, labelled it as just another superficial step that will have no bearing on youth players or the seniors. He also believes the statistics coming from Qatar on migrant workers are alarming and as footballer, who also come from humble backgrounds, it is important to at least raise the voice for the labourers who are actually responsible for making Fifa World Cup 2022 a possibility.

“Respect is paramount when it comes to the labourers and migrant workers. The statistics that I see, I feel the least we can do is stand with the migrant workers, appreciate them and raise the voice for their rights,” Saadullah told The Express Tribune, as he has finally seen the light and has taken up the job in distribution department of Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC), with whom he used to play football before the sports department was been shut by them recently.

“I have myself seen and heard how the discrimination takes place against the people from Pakistan and other South Asian countries in these Gulf States. It is appalling that so many migrant workers from Pakistan have lost their lives. Governments should take notice, the companies that violated the labour rights should be punished and there needs to be accountability.

“Sports cannot take place if there is no infrastructure and the people who build them are the true stars and heroes. Fifa would hold the World Cup in a grand manner, but it comes into the existence because of the workers. We need to stand with them, appreciate them and raise our voices.”

A Pakistan labourer, who has requested anonymity, confirmed that his stay in Doha as a worker had been a severe experience in poverty. He had also seen his friends working in Fifa projects who were suffering.

“We thought things will get better if we move there for work, but then we faced more poverty and helplessness. Thankfully I returned after two to three months,” said the labourer.

Pakistan Bureau of Emigration & Overseas Employment has reported to have sent 57,356 workers to Qatar, according to their annual report till 2020. Earlier, the 2016 report stated: “the Prime Minister of Pakistan paid a follow up visit in February 2016 to Qatar after Emir of Qatar announced 100,000 jobs from Pakistan for its FIFA World cup 2022, in which two million foreign manpower is required.”

On the sports front from the Pakistani perspective, the Fifa trophy celebrations only highlighted the gap that is between the global standard of football and the country still trying to have a stable federation that can enable them to play internationally and establish a professional club set-up domestically.

This was the second time the trophy came to Pakistan after 2018, and both times the Pakistan Football Federation was banned by Fifa over ‘third-party interference’. The officials of the PFF, now the Fifa-appointed Normalisation Committee, have remained central in a never-ending saga of the administrative power play.

In the communication with the NC member Shahid Khokhar, on Thursday, he revealed that the hearing of the PFF case has taken a turn in a more favourable direction for the Pakistan football.

The case is against former PFF officials, led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah who came into office after the Supreme Court-ordered elections 2018 and also forcefully and illegitimately threw out the NC head Haroon Malik along with other staff out of the PFF headquarters in March 2021.

Fifa had suspended Pakistan after Shah failed to give control to NC. While the NC regained the PFF headquarters through mediation by the Federal Minister for Inter Provincial Coordination Dr Fehmida Mirza few months ago, they remain hung as the accounts control is still with Shah’s group, rendering the NC useless.

On the other hand, Saadullah feels that there are passionate footballers in the community, but what is the message that was sent through the Fifa Trophy really, he asks.

“What are we motivating the youth for? That there are no opportunities in football for players and there has not been any improvement in the football structure. I have given 11 years of my life, each of those 11 years I had kept hoping, praying that things would change, but they didn’t so I can only say that to not tell the truth to the youth is misleading. It is unfair.

“Me and some other players are running away from football now. I am now working in an office. I finished my masters in international relations. Now I’m applying for MBA and I want to say that the youth must study first too. When it comes to football there is only hurt and frustration and no future, it hasn’t been since last decade,” said the midfielder who was named among the most valuable players in South Asia few years ago.

Saadullah also pointed towards Popo FC and Pakistan’s only Asian Football Confederation License A certified coach Shahzad Anwar, who are working hard and sending players to Brazil.

“I can only say that it would have been nicer if the World Cup Trophy event also featured the more deserving people like those at Popo FC, who are still working in a place that has no professional club system, but they are trying,” concluded Saadullah.

Published in The Express Tribune, 10 June 2022