There may be an incalculable number of sports, but only a few of them have the power to transcend class, cultural and national boundaries, and even fewer of them can command a following, equivalent to that of an organised religion or a global cult. Described as the beautiful game, the sport of football has much to brag about. With over 207 national football associations affiliated with the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), it is the most competitive, popular and widespread sport of them all, with a global fan base second to none.
In Europe and the Spanish speaking countries of South America, talented athletes compete in professional football and a plethora of resources are spent to nurture their talent to its natural extreme. After all, with football, the national pride is at stake, and players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite commonly known as Kaka, Lionel Messi and David Beckham live luxurious lives comparable only to the kings and aristocrats.
One would think that the subcontinent having about one fifth of the global population should be able to produce world class football athletes, yet this has not been the case. Our colonial roots and the popularity of cricket and hockey has somewhat overshadowed the prevalence of football as a dominant sport which has stunted the sport’s competitive growth.
Events in the past decade, however, are bringing about a change in how Pakistanis perceive and prioritise football. A decade and a half ago, accessibility to international football matches on local channels was a luxury, in every sense of the word. Only those, with dish antennas were able to watch football on sports channels. With increasing globalisation and advancement of communication technology, along with the media revolution in Pakistan, most people can now enjoy football on their screens.
So now, almost every other day, young men tune into sports channels watch their favourite football clubs compete against each other as they soak into glory of the game. The biggest and brightest stars of each club are idealised as modern day gladiators, who lead their men to victory over their adversaries. These players are not merely common men, but warriors produced by hours of training, hard work, will and determination.
In the words of an ardent football fan, Akram Shahid, “One cannot help but be mesmerised by the sport, it is just so electrifying. There is nothing comparable to the joy of watching the best football clubs and teams colliding against each other, and watching football evokes feelings beyond exhilaration and excitement, we escape our mind and body and become one with the game.”
Our young men sure do love the game, and all have a favourite club and a player, and of course, in any dinner conversation, everyone has an opinion of why their preferred club would reign supreme in any match. The sport’s following and fan base in Pakistan has increased so considerably that PTV Sports channel has begun to air these matches live.
Unfortunately, while locally people are getting fonder of international football, they tend not to follow or even enjoy the Pakistani football. In spite of having an active organised football scene, not much has happened in the way of Islamabad achieving any international success and compared to international football matches the local ones lack enough dexterity with the ball to make the sport enjoyable for the viewers.
The passion for football, in the hearts of young Pakistanis, however, is not curtailed by lack of representation. In fact, the love of the game inspires many young men to fill public parks during the evenings, and to my everlasting surprise, they opt for football rather than cricket.
Football is played across Pakistan, in urban as well as rural areas, and a part of its popularity can be explained by easiness with which the sport can be played, and of course, the sheer physical activity required while indulging in the sport is far greater than most games, which explains why young energetic men prefer it as opposed to the more passive aggressive games such as cricket.
Observable trends show that it is likely to gain prominence in Pakistan over the next few years, and a lot more will be done by Pakistan Football Federation to nurture our talented athletes and provide a competitive team to over a hundred million people who crave for representation in the global football league tables.