KARACHI, July 7: “Hey, we could have beaten them easily. We lost only because the referee favoured the other side!” fumed 14-year-old Azhar Sadiq, goalkeeper and captain of the Peace Education football team in orange kits, after losing 3-1 to the Karachi United boys in the navy blue kits at the National Coaching Centre on Sunday.

It was an exciting match with young cheerleaders going berserk, waving away their pompom and trying to buck up both sides. They had been there for the girls’ football match, too, that was played earlier and won by FMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls School who edged out the girls’ Peace Education football team 1-0.

“What sun, what heat? I am just concentrating on having fun!” laughed Kiran Mohammad Ali, a matriculation student, when asked if she was worried about getting tanned after standing in the sun for so long. “Besides, it’s been partially cloudy,” she pointed out.

Kainat Asif, a student of class eight and captain of the winning FMB Fatima Jinnah girls’ football team in dark green kits, could not hide her happiness at the final result. Meanwhile, the losing captain Zulfia Nazir said they just could not score against the other side. “Better luck next time,” she said to her team.

“You should have seen these kids when I first started coaching them. I thought them incapable of learning but look at them now,” commented Fatima Kiran, one of the coaches and herself a football player for the women’s Army team.

As unrest in Karachi’s most disturbed area of Lyari continues, these teenagers, many of whom hailing from that part of the city, experienced some of the most normal emotions people engaging in healthy sporting activities feel.

The sports activity was part of the British Council’s initiative for starting a new project named Developing and Organising Social Transformation Initiatives (Dosti), which encourages peace building, tolerance and learning among young people hailing from different parts of society through the medium of sports.

“Young people are the most potent part of our society, and all efforts should be made to nourish them to become responsible citizens and future leaders,” said Barbara Wickham, British Council’s provincial director for Sindh and Balochistan. “And this is what Dosti promises to deliver; engaging young people in activities using a medium of language that is spoken and understood by all irrespective of their associations: a language of sports.”

“We have been working in some of the most challenging parts of the city to bring people on board for the Dosti project. Here are people from Lyari, Mangopir, Old Golimar and Garden.

“The actual project was launched in January and after making the teams, training, etc., we held the knockout competition all week and our showcasing event today had the finals. Over 2,000 school-going and community youth between the ages of 12 and 18 years took part in the first phase but this is only just the beginning. We hope to expand to seven to 10 more areas of Karachi.,” the director shared.

The programme also included a tableau and a Taekwondo demonstration.

South Asia’s fastest woman Naseem Hameed was the chief guest of the event. “I am also one of the coaches trained by the British Council,” she said. “It is a great way of creating awareness among kids and teaching them tolerance while venting their anger and frustration through sports. What we teach them, they will take it back to their communities so it is like a ripple effect.”

Judging by the huge number of spectators at the showcasing event, the idea sure seems to be catching on. “There are plenty of kids who have just come to cheer and support their friends here,” suggested Ms Mehwish Mohammad Khurram, a teacher at Raza Foundation School, who was there to cheer the participants. “I wish there was something for them to do as well besides watching, like more games and food stalls to add to the carnival atmosphere maybe,”

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