The Potential Role of Football in the Socio-Economic Development of Pakistan

The World Cup is played with Pakistan-made balls, but no Pakistan team

The International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) has launched the Football World Cup 2022 in Qatar using Pakistan-made footballs named Al-Rihla. Pakistan’s military is also helping Qatar to provide security to the football participants and the audiences. But unfortunately, the Pakistan football team and Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) are not part of the tournament. More unfortunate is that FIFA canceled Pakistan’s membership three times in 2017, 2018, and 2021, because it interfered with FIFA’s decisions. The following aims to discuss the causes and impacts of FIFA’s ban on Pakistan football teams, specifically the Balochistan team, and those associated with it, also the role of football in the socio-economic development of the country, and how to bring the national football team to such global championships.

Recently, Qatar has spent almost $220 billion on the FIFA World Cup. It is the first-ever FIFA tournament held in the Middle East. The stadiums built in Qatar were made with the help of many Pakistani workers. The footballs in Cup are handmade ones produced by the Pakistani company Forward Sports. In addition, Pakistan’s military personnel were sent to help Qatar in providing security to the players and tourists.

But the football team of Pakistan is not playing in the FIFA tournament. Although Pakistan joined FIFA in 1948, Pakistan football has fallen far behind, as in 74 years d the country did not qualify for any match to participate in the Cup.

We are privileged to live in a diverse nation, and if we emphasize the factors mentioned, we can achieve great success in this international championship that is seen by billions of people worldwide. Most of us have witnessed much of the fresh football talent present in our youth of Chitral, Tribal areas, Lyari, and many regions of Punjab, South KP, and Balochistan. The only problem is that we lack will and commitment

According to the FIFA 2006 survey, Pakistan has three million football players, bringing the country to the top 20 with the most players. Although the country has rich football talent and has won gold four times in the South Asian Games, the football team of Pakistan is 194 on the FIFA ranking. The reasons for such low ranking could be poor-quality soccer grounds and less investment on football and the coaching of its players in and across Pakistan.  It is the only team in Asia that did not qualify for any FIFA tournament. Among the Asian nations, Pakistan is the only country without a winning record in the FIFA World Cup qualifying games as of the 2020 report. The craze for cricket among Pakistanis overshadows football and people as well as concerned authorities show less interest in this sport. The irony is that the country that has been supplying footballs to the FIFA tournament for many years now has not taken advantage to make its name in the sport by playing it themselves.

FIFA has suspended Pakistan thrice over its interference in FIFA’s elections to appoint the PFF President, which is against FIFA’s protocols, rules and regulations. In March 2017, a team of officials headed by Ashfaq Hussain Shah assumed control of the PFF’s head office despite not being authorized by FIFA and having been chosen by the Supreme Court to lead the organization in 2018. It was considered third-party interference by FIFA and it suspended the football team of Pakistan. After this FIFA suspension, the national team did not get international recognition and was also not allowed to play with any international team.

Such occurrences decrease players’ morale; their future becomes at stake and their talent stands vulnerable to being wasted. Moreover, the PFF has committed significant corruption with money that FIFA sent to conduct football games and build football stadiums. FIFA has given funds for the construction of “Goal Projects” in eight cities to build their own football houses, but only one was constructed and the rest fell prey to corruption. Corrupt elements could be held responsible for these setbacks.

Furthermore, the sports industry has made the name of Pakistan famous and also contributes to around 1.52 percent of the GDP. It provides 70 percent of the footballs used all over the world. The industry sells its footballs and other sports goods to world-top brands like Adidas, Nike, Puma, and Wilson. The income of many individuals is connected to this sector and sports. During football matches, the street vendors sell their goods, and the restaurants and hotels also benefit from the local people and tourists which also contributes to the tourism sector. However, all this setup gets affected because of third-party interference, corrupt practices and politicization of the Pakistan Football Federation.

Although FIFA has removed the ban from Pakistan, still there is a need to rebuild the image of Pakistan, its Football Federation and its Football team. For that, there is a requirement for reforms in the PFF administration. The Federation should abide by the rules and regulations and elections mandate of FIFA.

Additionally, corruption and mismanagement are among the reasons for lagging far behind in getting close to participating in the CUP. For that, FIFA should ensure that there is a transparent system of accountability to make sure that the money is being utilized legitimately to support football players and facilities.

In Pakistan football is played with more passion in its Balochistan province, slthough the province is the least developed among all the provinces. Because of unemployment and lack of healthy activities, the youth move toward drugs and could easily fall into the hands of extremists who can exploit them to create instability in the region and pursue their interests.

Sports, including football, is one of the tools to engage the youth and keep them from falling into the depression of unemployment. Involvement in healthy activities could lead to a productive and constructive environment as well as contribute to the social development of society. Moreover, providing opportunities in the sports sector for both coaching and playing can also aid in countering terrorism, extremism and drug addiction in the region.

In Europe, football is considered a second religion, and we also need to have football back in Pakistan. The country needs a yearly football league at a national level on the pattern of the cricket league, which includes teams from all over the nation, specifically from Balochistan. Updating all football institutions, replacing old underperformers with young professionals who are passionate and energetic about the game, suitable media exposure for the league, nationwide investment in brand-new football stadiums with the help of FIFA funds, connecting colleges, universities, and even schools with football clubs and academies.

We are privileged to live in a diverse nation, and if we emphasize the factors mentioned, we can achieve great success in this international championship that is seen by billions of people worldwide. Most of us have witnessed much of the fresh football talent present in our youth of Chitral, Tribal areas, Lyari, and many regions of Punjab, South KP, and Balochistan. The only problem is that we lack will and commitment.

Sakina
Sakina
The writer is Assistant Research Fellow at the Balochistan Think Tank Network, Quetta

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