Football can match cricket in popularity [The News]

Football can match cricket in popularity [The News]

by Abdul Mohi Shah

ISLAMABAD: The enthusiasm with which 25,000 spectators backed the Greenshirts during the World Cup qualifying match against Tajikistan at the Jinnah Stadium Tuesday shows that football can match the popularity of cricket in Pakistan.

Jinnah Stadium, which usually hosts Olympic sports, was the centrestage of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1989 and then 2004 South Asian Games. The venue which also hosted hockey internationals in the early eighties, has a capacity of around 70,000 spectators.

The Stadium is under renovation these days. At this point in time it offered only 25,000 seats which were all occupied during the Pakistan-Tajikistan match. What was missing however was the fighting spirit and the enthusiasm to do well from the local outfit.

Spectators started occupying their seats hours before the start of the qualifier but were seen leaving midway when Pakistan were trailing 1-4 as there were no chances of any recovery or fight-back considering the dominance of Tajik players.

“We were expecting at least some fight from the side that had almost eight foreign players in the line-up. Admittedly the game of football has been struggling for a long now but there must be an end to this continuous fall. As you see no sport not even Test cricket could draw such a huge crowd on a single day in Pakistan.

I would request the government to help in systematising the entire football setup in Pakistan as the game has got immense potential to flourish,” Taimoor Kayani, former Coordinator Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC), said.

He said that $15 million is still pending with FIFA and another Rs150 million is frozen in Pakistani banks. The amount is enough to take care of development work in the country. “Look when it comes to funds, football has enough but FIFA would release the amount if we had a democratic federation in the country.”

The majority of spectators turning up for the game were upset to see the Pakistan team’s performance. “I think if you pick the best from the national championship, they can play better football than what we have seen today. Pakistani players were no match to a well-versed Tajikistan team,” Haroon Khan, a local football player, claimed.

He stressed the requirement of activating club football. “No one recognises club football these days. Nor there is any available stage where we could go on to show our talent. We need a system where talented players could go on to make a name for themselves and for the country by systematically improving their skills and stamina,” he said.

Niamatullah was also upset at Pakistan’s performance, saying that as a midfielder he could play far better than was on display from Pakistan’s defence.

“I don’t know who has selected this team. Players hardly had any power to match fast-moving Tajikistan players. I play for a local club and have the guts to play better football.”

Ladies also turned in numbers to watch football action. “We were only here to watch live football and were upset at the results not because Pakistan conceded six goals but the way local players made mistakes.

I think they were not one hundred percent ready for the match nor they were playing as a team capable of at least competing against the best at such a stage,” Asya Shazadi, who came along with a host of her friends to watch the match, said.

The crowd presence at the Jinnah Stadium at least proved one point and that is that football fans could outnumber cricket if we succeed in raising competitive outfits in all age groups.

Published in The News, 24 November 2023