INTERVIEW: Set the ball rolling

Published January 10, 2009

Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat is president of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF). He took charge of the federation in 2003.

Sunday Magazine caught up with Faisal Saleh Hayat and had a discussion with him on the state of soccer inPakistan. The following are excerpts from his interview

Sunday Magazine Why isn't soccer popular in Pakistan?
Faisal Saleh Hayat Simply put lack of public interest. Before I took charge of the PFF, there was no football activity in the country. We started the National Premier League, a B-Division championship and Under-21 and Under-17 youth football tournaments to generate public interest in soccer.
We hosted the AFC Challenge Cup, the AFC President Cup and the Indo-Pakistan series at a time when there were security concerns. Also, our (expatriate) footballers who take part in the European League came here last year and represented Pakistan.
SM But all these things haven't improved the standard of our national football team.
FSH In our tenure the Pakistani team managed to win the gold medal twice at the SAF Games and qualified for the next round of the Asia Cup. In the World Cup qualifying round we had a draw against Iraq (Asian champion), so the team's performance has improved.
Then we introduced women's football in the country, developed a women's wing under a female administrator. The number of women teams has now increased to 30.
SM What were your priorities when you took charge of the PFF?
FSH My first task was to popularise the game in the country, so a plan was made to maximise football activities. The administrative structure of the federation was also to be organised from scratch, which we did.
SM But people say all this has come about because of FIFA's assistance. What's your response to it?
FSH With FIFA's assistance we started the Goal Project. It was initially meant for Karachi but was later shifted to Lahore because the then provincial government couldn't provide us with the required land for the project. Now the project has been constructed in Lahore. FIFA has given us two more goal projects for Peshawar and Karachi. The work on the Peshawar one is in progress while in Karachi the issue of land has finally been resolved and we'll start working on the project soon.
SM It's been two years, and after Salman Sharida's departure the national team is without a coach. What are you doing in this regard?
FSH Because of limited budgets, we had a choice between hiring a coach and organising football activities; we went for the latter. Even for this year our budget is four crore rupees while our expenditures stretch to Rs10 crores. The budget of even the Bangladesh Football Association is Rs35 crore. A good qualified coach costs approximately $15,000. Now the federal government has given us a grant worth Rs20million. We have short-listed seven coaches, and I am hopeful that in January or February a foreign coach would join the team.
SM What is the idea behind Football for Peace?
FSH The people of Balochistan and the NWFP like soccer. This programme will promote football in those regions. We will develop 20 academies and provide basic training to youngsters. We have asked the government to support us, while countries like Spain, Italy, the US and Australia have also offered their support in this regard.
SM Bayern Munich has recently opened an academy in Kolkata. Why can't these clubs do the same in Pakistan?
FSH We have been working on this idea for the last two years. We have sent letters to all the major clubs in Europe.
 
Inter Milan, Liverpool and Bayern Munich even expressed their interest in coming up with academies in Pakistan. But the poor law and order situation is a big issue, and they're reluctant to come to our country.
 
As an alternative we recently sent our operation wing to Europe for talent-hunting and it managed to select 20 promising players who can play for Pakistan.
SM Rivalry with India has benefited cricket and hockey teams of both countries. We witnessed the same in football when Pakistan hosted a three-Test series against its archrival. Why was the series discontinued?
FSH I tried to persuade the Indians for the continuation of the series, but they were hesitant. Probably because India is a better ranked team in the world and we won the first series on aggregate which harmed their prestige. But I think mainly it was a political move.

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