Former international footballer Luis Figo and Kaka were in Pakistan earlier this month, launching a series of exhibition games scheduled for April in Karachi and Lahore.
Football is not the most popular sport in Pakistan, a country with 220 million inhabitants, ranked number 199 in the FIFA ranking. Even the national sport, hockey, is diced by cricket on the popularity scale, a fact that Kaka has confirmed at the start of the event this month.
“We know that football is not the most popular sport here, it’s cricket, right?” said Kaka. “But I think the door will open … to give these youth another chance, not only for cricket but also for football.”
With the growing popularity of football among the younger generation, organizers of the World Soccer Stars event, TouchSky Group (TSG), hope to capitalize on this small opening by hosting exhibition games to give the sport a launch pad.
“Pakistan is a country lacking in football action, which is a sport that has a large following in the country,” said Ahmer Kunwar, CEO of TSG, to Al Jazeera.
“The upswing will not happen overnight, and I expect a gradual transition as fans, brands and viewers become the next big alternative sport on the market.
Pakistan’s football administration, however, is currently involved in an internal crisis. The President of the Federation, Faisal Saleh Hayat, was recently deposed by Supreme Court elections.
However, FIFA supports Hayat as the legitimate federal leader and described the court’s order as interference by third parties, which threatened to suspend the federal government.
While Kunwar said his organization works “hand in hand with the Federation,” experts believe that organizing matches will do little to improve football on the ground.
“Such events bring the famous names with them because they create a bit of hype and attract some sort of investment, but not necessarily for local football,” said Ali Ahsan, director of FootballPakistan.com.
“They are not enough to change domestic football in a sustainable and credible way, and if it were a showable product in countries like Pakistan, you’d expect investors to be more involved in the local game, rather than hopping at such stopovers. ” he added.
“Domestic football will not change just by bringing legends to an event for a few days.”
Footballers Ryan Giggs, Ronaldinho and Nicolas Anelka took part in a similar event in 2017 at show games in Pakistan.
According to a report in Dawn.com, the organizers of this event, Leisure League, said they are not affiliated with World Soccer Stars because “they understand that showroom games are not very geared to promoting football in the country.”
Kunwar said the event will “help fans realize that world stars are here to support the growth of football,” said Rishad Mahmood, sports editor for the newspaper “Dawn,” and the games are not considered “game changers.” act for the Pakistani football.
“Pakistani football needs full-time sponsors,” Mahmood said. “It could be good if such funds are used at grass-roots level and the standard of the country’s top league is raised.
“Pakistan needs standardized youth tournaments and academies, and there is an urgent need to develop world-class footballers.” Ahsan reiterated the mood, adding that the funds could have been used better.
“Our rough guess is that the costs that these superstars pay for such an event are likely to be worth a full year of the Pakistan Football Association, and that the PFF normally provides three to five years money for youth development and domestic play,” said Ahsan.
Figo, the former captain of Portugal, who came to the event with a cricket batsman, called the event an “opportunity to open some football schools” in Pakistan.
Kunwar told TSG that they are working with local brands to “help them reach areas that have never been considered before to improve the fundamentals and give them the chance to be spotted by stars using their skills analyze”.
Long Term Planing Needed:
Pakistan’s football succession is all the more visible during the World Cup when certain parts of the country – Lyari in the southern city of Karachi – are turned into “Mini Brazil”. Flags, posters and big screens are set up by football madness fans
Despite the questioning of the impact that retired footballers will have, the arrival of Kaka and Figo in the country was greeted by enthusiastic fans who rarely see international sports stars in Pakistan
Until recently, after a rifle attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009, Pakistan even starved to international cricket campaigns.
Football fans were commissioned to see foreign stars on television. While the domestic football league is not broadcast in local sports channels, Ahsan says that even the games in which the national team is involved, are rarely on the air.
While these events are good for positive outreach, it would be a mistake to view them as a means of improving domestic football in Pakistan because it requires a long-term plan and a long-term vision from the base with the required patience and perseverance become a viable product that can be marketed and sold to attract investors, “said Ahsan.