In cricket-mad Pakistan, football fever rises with World Cup
A corner of Karachi will forever be Brazil. Seen from overseas, Pakistan’s biggest city this week issued a fresh reminder of its reputation for chaos and violence but on its teeming streets, the more burning topic of interest is the World Cup now under way.
The “beautiful game” offers residents of Pakistan’s commercial metropolis a brief respite from the maelstrom of violence that blights their everyday lives.
Earlier this week Islamic militants laid siege to the city’s airport in a sophisticated nighttime raid that killed 38 people, the latest in a series of militant attacks to bring chaos to the country’s vital economic hub.
But in the Lyari neighbourhood, the talk is all football.
Most of the homes in this gang-blighted slum are festooned with the flags of different national teams, with Brazil’s yellow and green colours by far the most popular.
Local resident Mohammad Ameen was busily preparing for his wedding Friday. Yet he was equally determined not to miss out on any footballing action, despite cricket ranking far ahead of football for most Pakistanis.
“I can’t miss the World Cup,” the 27-year-old said. “I have asked my relatives to come early so that we can wrap up the ceremonies early and I can watch the match with my friends.”
Lyari has overcome miserable facilities and a notorious reputation for gang violence that has killed hundreds of people over the past 15 years to produce the country’s best football players.
Former Pakistan international Aurangzeb Shahmir, who lives in the neighbourhood, said local residents are obsessed with the tournament, even if his countrymen have never even qualified for the finals.
“When you come to Lyari these days, you will realise that the football World Cup is on,” he said.
Finding a working television is not easy in a city beset by regular power outages. Like thousands of fans, Shahmir almost missed the opening ceremony on Thursday night after much of the city’s southwestern suburbs were plunged into darkness.
“The power came on just minutes before the opening ceremony, so I was lucky. But we appeal to the authorities to reduce load-shedding (rolling blackouts) so that we can watch all the matches,” he said.
In Malir, which lies on the western edge of Karachi airport, a football fiesta is also under way as people do their best to forget about how Pakistan’s aviation hub was briefly turned into a war zone only a few days before.
“We started preparations for the World Cup late because of the airport attacks,” said local resident Jalil Baksh, whose house is painted with a tournament schedule and group standing tables. “But now we can’t wait any more as the festival is on.”
The timing of the tournament suits school children, who are currently on their holidays and can stay up late into the baking summer nights.
“I am gearing up to watch matches and there will be no school to worry about,” said local student Abbas Ali Shabbir, an avid football fan.
Those who can afford it have also taken advantage of a recent relaxation of visa restrictions to go and watch the games in person.
“We have issued visas to around 200 people from Pakistan, while some 300 Pakistanis are travelling to our country from other parts of the world,” Brazil’s ambassador Alfredo Leoni told reporters in Islamabad on Thursday.
“Here in Pakistan, we’ve given 100 per cent waiver on visas to Pakistani fans to help them enjoy football extravaganza in our country,” he added.
But for the vast majority of Karachi’s estimated 20 million inhabitants, a television – and a prayer that the city’s electricity supplies hold up – will just have to do.
Follow us on Twitter @SprtNationalUAE
Updated: June 14, 2014 04:00 AM