Sardar Naveed Khan, Pakistan Football Federation’s marketing and event consultant, feels football can be a key instrument in promoting peace between India and Pakistan.
“Why not?” he asks. “What better way than football (to promote peace). It is the global game.”
Khan, who is in the city as the leader of the Pakistan delegation for the Under-23 series against India, says Sunday’s match was the first time they had played on artificial turf.
“Sunday was the first time we played on an artificial turf as there are no artificial turfs in Pakistan. So I’m just happy that the boys survived that.”
Asked about the structure of football in Pakistan, he sighs. “Cricket has always been the number one sport there but over the last eight years, football is picking up,” he says.
“We have two national leagues (non-professional) and we have set ourselves a target of having a professional league by 2020. We have been in talks with the Asian Football Confederation with respect to this.”
“Most of the squad that is here has been with us right from the Under-13 days. The coach (Mohammad Shamlan) has a clear objective of bringing younger players through the system. We also have a pool of 40 players back home and the focus is also on having a good depth.”
Most India-Pakistan bilateral series creates all sorts of issues but this series has progressed smoothly so far. Khan says the process started in an AFC conference in Malaysia.
“We had been in touch with the AIFF for some time. The last time a bilateral football series between the countries took place was in 2005-06 so we talked about its feasibility on the sidelines of a conference in Kuala Lumpur.
“After the talk, Praful Patel (AIFF President), instructed his team to find a window. And it so happened that both of us were preparing for the Asian Games and this proved to be a perfect window of opportunity and we took it from there.”
Cricket series in Pakistan have come to a halt because of security concerns, which were heightened after a Sri Lankan cricket team bus was attacked by terrorists in 2009. But football has remained unaffected, according to Khan.
“Even after the attack happened on the Sri Lankan team bus, teams like Bangladesh, Palestine and Malaysia have played us on a home and away basis,” he notes. “The insurgents, or whatever you want to call them, all those are out of our hands. But I don’t see why we should stop playing.”
He also hopes that this tour would be the beginning of something new. “(On Saturday) when I saw Sunil Chhetri and Kaleem Ullah sitting side by side, it looked like they had been friends for long. And that is ultimately what we hope to achieve through this tour.”