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Blatter’s Asian tour: Another missed opportunity?

March 14, 2012

FIFA President Sepp Blatter was in India recently where he capped off his short Asian tour. And while Blatter also visited Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh on the tour, somehow somewhere Pakistan was left off the itinerary.

In India, Blatter exuded confidence that the country had a good chance of hosting the Under-17 World Cup while adding that: "My aim as the FIFA president is to establish football in the continent of India. I have been closely following the development of football in India.”

Blatter’s comments could mean a lot to football in Pakistan as he implies to the region as the ‘continent of India’.

At the same time, they might not at all.

If recent history has to be taken into consideration, Blatter’s visit to India could have the same results as his visit to the Indian subcontinent had in 2007.

Zilch for Pakistan.

And it’s high time Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) President Faisal Saleh Hayat looked into the matter of Pakistan football more gravely instead of taking up posts within FIFA one after the other. Just last week, the PFF chief was made a member of FIFA’s strategic committee in addition to his continuation as a member of the Players’ Status Committee.

Despite all that, Pakistan remains where it was five years ago – maybe even worse. Although the current PFF hierarchy continue to claim that Pakistan football has vastly improved since they took over in 2007, statistics tell otherwise. Pakistan have won just five games since then and have plummeted to 181 in the rankings from their previous position of 163.

Shouldn’t Hayat’s many posts in FIFA have some benefits for Paksitan football?

It is high time that Pakistan comes to realize that Hayat’s ascension up the ranks will in the end not help Pakistan football at all and considering it as an achievement for Pakistani football is plain naive since the game continues to suffer and bleed.

And the fact that Blatter snubbed Pakistan during his Asian tour is proof of that. What is even more surprising is that Hayat couldn’t convince Blatter to visit the country as that would’ve given Pakistan football a real shot in the arm.

India is certainly reaping the benefits. Blatter’s visit in 2007 resulted in football there getting a major boost as many industrialists started investing in the game and with the influx of money, came greater facilities and in 2010, IMG-Reliance -- a partnership between IMG Worldwide and Indian company Reliance Industries Ltd. -- signed a 15-year deal in 2010 worth $140 million for all commercial rights to promote and market football in India.

That paved the way for the Celebrity Management Group to bring FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi along with the Argentinean football team, to India and Bangladesh for a series of friendly matches last year.

Similarly, Indian firms have bought franchises in a Premier League Soccer tournament to be held in the eastern state of West Bengal from next month which will feature semi-retired football stars such as Fabio Cannavaro, Robert Pires, Robbie Fowler and Hernan Crespo as they aim to improve their domestic game on similar lines to what China is doing.

Surely, Pakistan would have had little shortage of investors if the PFF showed some sort of seriousness in the uplift of Pakistani football and Blatter’s visit would’ve been a good sign. It would’ve helped in the establishment of a professional football league in Pakistan as the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) is still counted as being an amateur division.

The PFF doesn’t have to look much farther than China. Shanghai, China is barely five hours away – by air – from Karachi. And that is where former Chelsea and Real Madrid striker Nicholas Anelka’s new team, Shanghai Shenhua are located. The signing of Anelka has sparked a lot of excitement as China looks to boost its game on the back of big-name players and Chinese football fans are optimistic that the “Anelka effect” will not disappoint.

And if recent results are to be seen, Chinese clubs are certainly making an impression in Asian club football’s showpiece tournament – the AFC Champions League.

The cases of China and India should serve as examples how a professional league can improve the footballing standard of the country.

And had the PFF chief been a little sensible, last week, the first step towards a positive change for Pakistan football would’ve had been taken. And a visit from Blatter, for even a short duration, could have changed the face of the country’s football forever.

 

Umaid Wasim is an international football journalist from Pakistan. His dream is to one day see Pakistan on the global football map.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.