Football, a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry, was introduced in subcontinent during the British Empire. Despite being one of the most popular games in the world, it is regarded as the poor men’s sport in Pakistan. Therefore, it could not reach the heights as cricket and hockey due to the negligence of the government and sports related organizations. In the history of football in Pakistan, we cannot neglect Balochistan whose veteran footballers like Captain Qayum Ali Changezi, renowned as PAPA, Captain Ahmed Ali Hazara, Captain Haider Shah Hazara, Taj Muhammad Junior and many others contributed to the game to keep it alive in the province and country and brought good name to Pakistan.

Qayyum Ali Changezi ‘PAPA’, the 10th Captain of Pakistan, the country’s greatest ever player from the 1950s- 60s (file photo)

                         The Balochistan’s Hazara community and football are intertwined with each other. Due to the continued terrorist attacks on the community, the people in one or other ways are traumatized and are isolated from other communities of Balochistan as they are made to live in barricaded walls surrounded by security check posts. The other communities are not allowed to visit the Hazara localities on the plea of security issues, while Hazaras cannot go to other localities due to the continued fear of becoming the prey of target killings. The community, particularly the youth, pursue sport activities, particularly football, in their limited locality because they have immense interest in the game. Now unfortunately, the future of sports and football, in particular, looks bleak in the community owing to the lack of grounds and government interest. The only football ground in the Hazara populated area ‘Hazara Town’ that has a population of approximately half a million, is closed as the land was owned by a person who now intends to build residential apartment on the said ground.

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Concretes unloaded for the construction of residential apartments inside the ground

Despite the interest of the community in the said game and its contribution to the country’s sport activities, the government failed to allocate funds or build a public football ground or sport complex in the much populated area. The area is totally neglected in the development schemes of the previous and present governments. As per the statement of Naimatullah Mazhar, The Chairman of new formed Hazara Sports Action Committee (HSAC), former PPP-MNA Syed Nasir Ali Shah Hazara announced a grant of Rs. 50 million for the ground during his PPP government which, unfortunately, has not been released yet and it seems difficult this grant would be released soon in near future. Mr Shah and Secretory Sports Mr Asmatullah Kakar also visited the site of the ground the previous days but in vain as just the other day, the HSAC taken out a protest rally for the reopening of the ground.

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Former MNA Syed Nasir Ali Hazara (3rd from the right) and Secretary Sports Asmatullah Kakar (talking on phone) inspecting the affected ground with representatives of HSAC
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The football players protesting under zero temperature for reopening of the ground

With the closure of the only football ground, there are high risks that the youth of the community would pursue unpleasant and negative activities and further add up to the already increasing number of drug addicts, which will welcome diseases like lung cancer, heart attack and TB, etc. According to news on July 2015, the Senate Standing Committee on Interior and Narcotics Control told that around seven million people in Pakistan were drug addicts, while 700 people died every day in the country due to drug-related complications. Briefing the committee, the then DG Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) Maj Gen Khawar Hanif said that drug-related deaths were greater than those caused by terrorism – the later killed 39 each day compared to the 700 deaths from drug addiction every day.

Federal and Provincial Governments, Pakistan Sports Board, Pakistan Football Federation, Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) and other sport organizations/committees should immediately take notice of the issue and allocate some grant on urgent basis to purchase the said land or make other arrangements for sports ground. This would not only keep the youth away from unpleasant and negative activities but also encourage them to pursue the footprints of their Pakistani Heroes, like veteran Qayum Ali Changezi, Captain Ali Ahmed Hazara, Taj Junior and other footballers and become the pride of the country.