PESHAWAR : In a bid to boost sports and restore normalcy in the tribal areas, a former footballer is bringing a football league to the once war-torn Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).
The Football Super League Fata (FFSL), the first ever football super league of the country, is expected to get underway later this month, just days after a national football tournament ends in South Waziristan.
The 12 teams which will feature in the league, are recruiting players from across the country and abroad. An official song has been released while the trophy and team’s uniforms have already been unveiled.
“FFSL is the first ever football league of the country,” said Shahid Khan Shinwari, a former football player and the man organising the league.
“We believe that we can do it [organise the league]and to provide opportunities to the people of the tribal areas to show their talent,” Shinwari said of the league which is set to open in a grand ceremony at the Qayyum sports complex in Peshawar on October 11.
He added that a decade-long war against terrorists in the tribal areas has damaged critical infrastructure in the region with sporting activities worst affected.
“There is a craze for football in the entire tribal region,” said Shinwari.
“Our first desire is to see peace prevail,” he hoped, adding, “so that we can play and even prepare players to play overseas.”
The magnitude of the problem this presents is evident in how the tournament will actually be taking place in Peshawar – far from the tribal areas since there are no proper football grounds in Fata.
“We [Fata residents] have immense talent for the game that can be utilised to earn a good name for the country,” Shinwari added.
The teams are currently hunting for talent, holding trials in Fata and across the country to get the best players.
While each team can name as many players as possible from other parts of the country or even from abroad, they must list at least eight players who are from the tribal areas on their roster.
“They are hiring players from across the country and abroad since everyone wants to win,” said an excited Shinwari.
The sides are named after the geographical regions and key icons of Fata such as the Khyber Eagles – owned by Shinwari, Bajaur Stars, Pakir Epi South Waziristan Agency, Waziristan Panthers, Khyber Green Zalmi, Shanwari FC, Malik Saad Falcons, Al-hajj group, Faw United, Young Jamrud united, Shaheens and Gazi Ajab Khan.
(Lack of) support
The Leisure League earlier this year which mesmerised Pakistani viewers by bringing in some of the world’s former top footballers such as Ballon d’Or, World Cup and Champions League winner Ronaldinho, Ryan Giggs and a host of others with a bevvy of sponsors in tow.
But organisers of FFSL have been not as lucky in attracting similar public attention or money – even though they boast sponsorship from a Japanese tyre giant.
Shinwari believes that it will be a tough ask to attract sponsors. If they are unable to do that, the FFSL may become one of the shortest leagues in history. “Yes, we need support, like that enjoyed by cricket and squash in the country,” he stated.
Noting that it was not easy to do anything in the current situation with little infrastructure, the task is made much harder by the fact that the sport does not rank high in the cricket-mad country.
“It is not easy to introduce such a league where there is little importance associated with football when compared to other games in the country,” Shinwari reminded.
The ultimate aim, he said, was to expand the sphere of the league as soon as it ends. For this purpose, he said that they had brought in a top coach such as Tariq Lodhi to hold a football champions league in the country – mimicking the pan-European tournament featuring some of the best clubs and players (not to mention the most expensive) in world football.
“This is how important this [league]is for us. We want to tell our people and the government to invest in football and other games to encourage the youth to participate in sports to dispel militancy and at least create a name for the country at Asian level,” he said.
But the burden should not be on the shoulders of people like Shinwari alone and the football federation should step up, do its duty and organise such leagues to nurture local talent for ultimate recruitment in the national team, he demanded.