After a long time, Pakistanis have a reason to celebrate for being the second biggest supplier of official world cup footballs ordered by Adidas. It is the only country after China which has produced these balls under the product name “Brazuca.”
All these balls were produced in Sialkot — the city which has been exporting sports goods for decades and is still the biggest supplier of hand-stitched balls in the world.
Have these expertise and the precious foreign exchange coming to the country contributed to the popularity of football as a sport here? Whether the organisations working for the promotion of this sport have attained tangible results or failed to achieved targets?
“The biggest issues in this regard are lack of funds, neglect by the corporate sector and absence of government support,” says Col (retd) Ahmed Yar Lodhi, secretary general of Pakistan Football Federation (PFF).
According to Lodhi, FIFA pays $2,50,000 per year to the country to spend it on the promotion of this sport. As the government does not give any significant amount, PFF is left with this sum which has to be spent as per directions of FIFA. For example, chunks from this amount have to be spent on men’s football, women’s football, sports infrastructure, such as repair of stadium, youth development and trainings for referees.
“It is a fact that football is the most commonly played sport in the country but, unfortunately, the corporate sector puts the money in promotion of cricket only,” adds Lodhi.
He believes only organisations, like PFF, cannot improve the situation. There are 46 countries in Asia and only four, including Iran and Australia (grouped in Asia region), could qualify for the world cup and none of them have won a single match so far. This, he says, means only money is not enough.
Lodhi says PFF runs talent hunt schemes, conducts football tournaments in different age categories, registered local clubs and organises national football league called Pakistan Premier League which is a big deal. “This is an achievement, especially when there is no national league for cricket or hockey in the country.”
“The PFF has registered 2,000 clubs of the country and many of them survive on limited funds generated locally. The talent pool is there but players cannot be polished without government support and resources to make them travel and get international exposure,” he adds.
Aamir Bilal, CEO of Sports Development Foundation (SDF) — a sports development NGO registered with the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) has a problem with the sponsorship arrangements local soccer developments organizations look for. He says instead of roping in corporate sponsors to host one or two championships, the focus should be on taking them onboard on a long-term basis.
The corporate sponsors, he says, should be apprised of the benefits of sports-based marketing, which can be called an inbuilt form of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). “Unfortunately, nowhere in Pakistan sports is being taught as a marketing subject and the corporate sector is not aware of the benefits entailed,” says Bilal.
He cites the example of the biggest football stadium in Europe — Camp Nau in Barcelona, Spain — and tells TNS that Qatar Airways has signed a partnership with it as a CSR initiative. The passengers who want to see football matches there are given incentives by the airline which, in return, earns both goodwill and a niche business.
Bilal suggests that it should be binding on the corporate sector to earn a percentage of revenues on sports and youth development. The government, in turn, can give these business organisations incentives and exemptions, such as those given against philanthropic work.
There is already an example. Under Pakistani laws, all the oil and gas exploration companies are required to spend $30,000 per block allocated to them in an oil or gas field on the welfare of the people. There are eight priority areas where these funds have to be spent and sports is one of them.
Unfortunately, he says, not all the companies spend these amounts on people’s welfare and that is why the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) asked them to deposit all the outstanding amounts for proper utilisation.
Tajammal Husain, spokesman for Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), tells TNS that since 2007, Child and Social Development Organisation (CSDO) has been playing an important role for promotion of football amongst children and youth of Sialkot with the financial support of FIFA through ILO-IPEC, and business community of Sialkot.
Besides, there is Sialkot Soccer Promotion Board (SSPB), which has many sports goods managers as its members. The board’s declared objectives include: how to promote the game of football in Sialkot at the grassroots level to support and encourage the playing of the game among all age groups, to facilitate the development of infrastructure and sporting facilities for the public, to generally develop a system of training, development and to do everything possible for the promotion of a healthy public activity through the game of football.
The PFF secretary general, Lodhi, thinks Pakistan’s team of 1950s should not be compared with the team of today. Pakistan could beat Iran easily then but the situation is totally different today. “They focused on the sport and we neglected it altogether,” he admits.