Apr 20, 2010

Street children and the football World Cup

By Aamir Bilal

Ahead of the FIFA World Cup which kicks off in June 2010, street children from eight countries of the globe got united in South Africa to demand their rights through the universal game of football. This initiative to hold the Deloitte Street Child World Cup was taken by a UK-based human rights charity organisation to use football as a global force of good for all and not just some.

Former England Captain David Beckham recognising this tremendous initiative said: "I know from personal experience just what power football can have to inspire and change young peopleís lives whatever their background or nationality. This is what the Deloitte Street Child World Cup is all about and I give it my full support".

The inaugural Child World Cup Championship took place, in March 2010 and saw marginalised children from eight different countries gather to use the universal language of football and art to push for their right to shelter, protection from violence, and access to health care and education.

Teams from Brazil, Tanzania, Philippines, South Africa, Nicaragua, Ukraine and India took part in the event. The event was not only a tournament of unity on the field but also off the field where street children met in a conference orchestrated by the University of Cambridge to voice the issues and the commitment resolutions they face. It was decided that "Street Child Manifesto" will be shortly developed which can be used across the word to help fight for the rights of street children everywhere.

The tournament was won by India by a solitary goal. Bal Singh, the Indian Coach after winning the tournament said, "we wanted to win the Street World Cup because back home we have a large number of poor and marginalised children for whom there could not had been a better gift".

At the end of the event, the art work generated by the street children during the tournament was collated in to an exhibition at the Durban Art Gallery and will remain on display for the public throughout the FIFA World Cup before coming back to UK in August this year.

The game of football was once among the most popular sport of the sub-continent. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was the first Patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF), which has been affiliated with FIFA sine 1948, Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat now heads its new management and Colonel (Retd) Lodhi is the Secretary of PFF. Pakistan's core national league has three divisions, below them are regional leagues, the National Football Challenge Cup, the Inter-City Super Football league which is Pakistan's first professional football tournament that started in 2007 and a national women football championship which was initiated in 2005, yet the country is no where visible on the scene of international football.

The Greenshirts were once recognised amongst the best Asian football teams. Pakistan were Merdeka Cup runners-up in Malaya in 1962. But inadequate funding and poor management had put Pakistan football behind many contemporary teams which they used to beat.

Pakistan currently lies 156th in the world football ranking and the new PFF management has tried to save the turbulent football of Pakistan by resorting to some emergency measures like hiring the services of former English Premier League player Zeshan Rehman. PFF is presently trying to hire more players from foreign leagues of Pakistani descent with the help of third party contracts, to allow them to represent Pakistan internationally and to boost the profile of competitive football in the country.

Besides Zesh, PFF hired services of Atif Bashir from Bridgend Town, Adnan Ahmed from Ferencvaros, Reis Ashraf from Lamington and Shabir Khan from Worcester city but have failed to develop a strong, home-grown football system.

The fact is that this most popular game of the world only requires a flat piece of ground, a football and a couple of young people to play. Unlike PFF goal project where 36 per cent of US$400,000 has been spent on infrastructure development, the developing countries are spending the major portions of their budgets on program development and using football as a tool of development and peace through intelligent investments in education institutions, and community-based football projects where development and training of talented and educated players become an automatic outcome.

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to visit the slums of Bekha Syedan, a five-hundred-year-old community located in the centre of a posh area in Islamabad to distribute footballs amongst the poor children of the locality that were donated by" Right To Play". I could see in the eyes of those children a desire to play and to be recognised like other sport stars of the country. I was stunned when a small girl from the area said that if given an opportunity she would like to play and become famous like Nasim Hameed, the fastest women of South Asia.

Such is the power of sport and such is the ignorance of our sport organisers, who have no clue and interest to leverage this tremendous human potential, lying untapped in streets, slums and education institutions of the country.

I hope that the PFF think tanks besides spending millions on infrastructure development and hiring of contractual players from abroad would prefer investing on projects that helps developing football at grass roots where marginalised children of society like Bekha Syedan, Machi Ghot and Lyari may also get an opportunity to display their latent sports abilities.

Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu described the Deloitte Street Child World Cup as a great success that demonstrates the tremendous potential of every single child and especially street children, who are so often treated as less than human. The initiation of sports event like Street Football Championship in Pakistan can thus act as a catalyst of football revival in the country in years to come. My message to the big wigs of PFF is that "when children play, the whole world wins".


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