LAHORE - Football in Pakistan is growing at a reasonable pace despite having less government interest in its promotion, lack of infrastructure, irregular corporate support and a depressed law and order situation particularly in the areas where the game is considered as the most popular sport.

Although Pakistan is very low in FIFA world ranking but appointment of a world class coach Shamlan from Bahrain has given new hopes to the game lovers in Pakistan. If we closely observe the progress of football in Pakistan during the year 2013, we certainly see a lot of multidimensional happenings and we can rightly conclude that Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) is well focused to elevate the game in Pakistan to unprecedented heights. The main reason for this visible development is the approach of the federation not to ignore any aspect of the game.

The year 2013 added another feather into the crown of Pakistan when the PFF triumphed the “AFC ‘Aspiring’ MA Award of the Year 2013” in the presence of FIFA president JS Blatter which is not only a morale booster for the whole Pakistani nation but also a recognition stamp on the performance of the PFF. It raised the image of the country in international football community, so much so the FIFA president JS Blatter lauded the PFF during his meeting with its chief Fasial Saleh Hayat on the side-lines of the FIFA strategic committee held in Marrakesh, Morocco.  He appreciated the PFF for the continuation of its fruitful efforts being done for the development of football at all levels in Pakistan despite of certain hindrances.

The productive contribution of the PFF chief in Asia and at world level as the member of FIFA strategic committee, member of AFC Executive Committee and Chairman AFC Legal Committee is also admired by the international football community.

Under the Youth Football Development Programme 2013, the PFF provided opportunities to its highest level coaches to improve their qualification. Participation of Pakistan’s coaches Kiran Ilyas in AFC ‘A’ Licence coaching course at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Essa and Mohsin in AFC Project Future coaches course Guangzhou, China are the examples. At the same time, Pakistan’s referees regularly featured the international competitions held in Asia in the year 2013 which shows that the PFF has worked remarkably in the field of referees’ education.

The youth football development is another area where the PFF made some significant efforts as the federation oraganised the National U-13 Youth Football Cup, National U-13 Regional Cup, National U-13 Festival, National U-16 Football Championship in befitting manner.

At international level, national football team took part in AFC U-14 Championship at Meshad, Iran where the team showed its true potential by winning against Kyrgyzstan 8–0 and India by 2–0. Pakistan team got silver medal in the competition. Pakistan U-16 football team participated in SAFF U-16 Football Championship held at Katmandu, Nepal while Pakistan U-14 team featured in the 2nd Asian Youth Games held at Nanjing, China.

The PFF also held international soccer activity in the country as they hosted AFC U-16 football Qualifiers (Championship) at Lahore in which Iran, UAE, Pakistan and Sri Lanka exhibited their prowess. This was done at a time when the doors of international sports were closed on Pakistan. The success of this event portrayed a softer image of the country across the globe. Pakistan national U-19 football team appeared in AFC U-19 championship qualifiers at Erbil, Iraq which provided them much-needed international exposure.

Keeping its financial constraints in view, the PFF provided a lot of international matches to its senior national team. The green shirts played a two-match series against Nepal in Nepal. The national team also played two matches against Maldives in Maldives, one match against UAE, participated in AFC Challenge Cup at Kyrgyzstan, visited Afghanistan and played one match against Afghanistan, played in 2nd Peace Cup held at Philippine and won its first match against Chinese Taipei by 1–0 and also participated in 8th SAFF Tournament. The PFF also kept on holding national training camps under the able guidance of international coaches who prepared the players well for the mega events.

The PFF has also exhibited national level football competitions including National Challenge Cup, 2013, Pakistan Premier League (PPL 2013) and PFF-B Division League 2013. The highest football competition Pakistan Premier League’s (PPL 2013) 10th episode is currently under progress with the league’s last phase is being played at Lahore. Total 240 matches are part of the league in which almost 180 have been played. Wapda, PAF and KESC are on top of the point table. KRL, the defending champions, hoping to join the top position’s race, started the season late due to their participation in the AFC President Cup.

The PFF allocates a major part of its annual budget to run the league which plays a rule of nursery for the national team. The federation’s top brass proclaims that the regular organisation of the PPL for the last decade has started showing good results and quotes the historic performance by the last year PPL champion club KRL in ‘AFC President Cup 2013’ at Malaysia where the KRL team achieved silver medal.

A graceful ceremony was held at PFF Secretariat FIFA Football House in honour of KRL football team in which the PFF chief handed over award money of Rs one million to the KRL team for their historic performance by standing as runners-up in the AFC President Cup 2013, Malaysia. Such results showed that Pakistanis have potential to excel at international level and if they are provided proper support by government and corporate sector to prepare well for the mega events and also for the game infrastructure which badly needed attention of the government, they will prove their mettle and earn laurels for the country.

The 10th Pakistan Football Federation League 2013 (PFFL/ B Division League) was also organised by the PFF which was participated by total 24 teams out of which there were 15 departmental teams and nine clubs teams. The final was played between Pakistan Railways and Baloch FC Quetta. Ultimately, Railways stood as the winner of the PFFL 2013 by beating Baloch FC 2-0. Both the teams have qualified to play Pakistan Premier League 2014.

Where the PFF has created a lot of opportunities for men’s football, women football has also been given proper attention. In this regard, the 9th National Women Championship 2013 should be particularly mentioned. In all, 16 women football teams from across the country participated in the championship. Young Rising Star Women FC of Rawalpindi, who were also the four times defending champions, won the title by defeating Balochistan United Women FC 3-2 on penalty kicks. Mainly due to the good organisational skills and efficient management of the PFF, the SAFF Women Championship 2014 has been allotted to Pakistan which is a big success.

To penetrate further in the youth, the PFF, adopting a modern approach, has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2013 with Beacon House School System, the largest chain of private schools.

To compete with the world, the PFF must address the issues of the basic units ‘Clubs’. The standard of coaching and training should be improved at the base since clubs are the mother laps for the football players. The government should also come forward to help in implementation of infrastructure proposed by the federation to promote largest playing game and football players who have been waiting for having PFF-owned grounds and stadiums where they may prepare well for the national and international soccer events.

Pakistan and especially PFF is fortunate to have its president like Faisal Saleh Hayat who have been enjoying good relations with international football community as well as FIFA and AFC top officials and due to his utmost efforts, the national players have been trained healthy relations to take on world’s top teams under the competent guidance of foreign coaches. So if the government and corporate sector support these promising players, they will surely earn laurels for the country.