LAHORE: Nicolas Anelka will be joining Brazilian football star Ronaldinho during his trip to Pakistan for an exhibition match in the summer, the former France international’s participation confirmed by the organisers at a grand news conference here on Tuesday.

The match will be held in Karachi and Anelka and Ronaldinho will be joined by former England goalkeeper David James and former Dutch midfielder George Boateng.

Bringing these football stars to Pakistan are World Group, who acquired the Leisure Leagues franchise which is a United Kingdom-based organiser of five-, six- and seven-a-side football.

“This is a great step towards the promotion of football,” Najam Sethi, the chairman of Pakistan Super League (PSL) — the country’s popular and glitzy Twenty20 cricket league, said at the news conference.

“At the back of two successful PSL seasons it’s good to see that the private sector is looking at other sports.

“We held the PSL final in Lahore and showed that security isn’t an issue in Pakistan anymore. The holding of the PSL final has opened doors for international sport and Leisure Leagues have assured me that they will bring top football players to the country.”

During his playing career, Anelka featured for London clubs Arsenal and Chelsea and their fellow Premier League rivals Manchester City. He also turned up for European giants including Real Madrid, Paris St Germain and Juventus.

He will now feature in the exhibition match against a Pakistan XI in July.

Pakistan cricket chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq was also present at Wednesday’s news conference and urged government and private sector to work together for sports promotion.

“We need to lay down sports infrastructure as it is essential to promote sports culture in the country,” he said. “Playing sport daily is a process of automatic coaching.”

Provincial sports minister Jahangir Khan Zada ensured government support and said his ministry was ready to help the sports community.

“Hopefully the budget for sports infrastructure in Punjab would be increased to Rs14 billion from the current Rs5billion in next fiscal budget,” he said.

Pakistan hockey team coach Khwaja Junaid, meanwhile, hailed the arrival of the football stars as a good step to “promote the game in the country”.

Amongst others present the occasion were former Pakistan Football Federation secretary retired Col Mujahidullah Tareen, former secretary Pakistan Tennis Federation secretary retired Col Asif Dar, Sports Board Punjab director Anis Sheikh and international swimming coach Hafeez Bhatti.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2017

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