For a third world country that is still relatively young, Pakistan has achieved notable glory in the field of sports.
Over the years, it has produced world beaters in games like hockey, cricket, squash and snooker. It has even given birth to several world class athletes and quality tennis players. But when it comes to sporting success ‘the beautiful game’ remains Pakistan’s Achilles’ heel.
Even as millions of Pakistanis join the rest of humanity to savour the ongoing FIFA World Cup in Brazil, they envy the 32 teams featuring in the quadrennial spectacle. The question many Pakistan fans inevitably ask themselves is why their national team cannot make the cut for what is the most watched sports event in the world? Why is their country – which sees itself as a regional power when it comes to sports – languishing at a joint 164th spot in international football rankings along with tiny Nepal? Why does Pakistan trail behind even its South Asian neighbours Afghanistan, India and even Maldives? Why such failure when they keep hearing claims that there is an abundance of football talent in the country with nurseries like the crime-infested locality of Lyari in Karachi and the border town of Chaman in Balochistan routinely producing exciting young talent?
The problem with Pakistan football, like with so many other areas of the country, is its flawed system.
The country is brimming with raw talent, a fact that is time and again proved by Pakistan’s success in junior football events. At that level, Pakistan has won regional titles time and again. But our football chiefs have failed to translate that immense potential into even modest success at the international level. It’s not that the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) is not doing anything. It has been making tall claims and has even announced that its so-called ‘Vision 2022’ project will pave the path for Pakistan’s maiden World Cup appearance in the 2022 event in Qatar.
But the ground reality is that the PFF remains an inefficient body that has achieved precious little other than lip service. It has failed to fix what is a flawed domestic system and has done little to take concrete steps to bring Pakistan closer to World Cup qualification.
The bitter fact is that with each passing year, Pakistan football gets further from achieving its most cherished dream: winning a World Cup spot. That will continue to happen unless people at the helm of national football affairs get their act together and start doing much more than making hollow promises.