Could this caged sport become the saving grace for football in a country consumed by its love for cricket?
Futsal has begun to embed itself into Pakistan’s sporting scene. The sport has its origin in the South American countries of Uruguay and Brazil where it had begun to be played in the early 1930’s. The Streets of Sao Paula became the breeding grounds for a sport whose impact spread faster than the plague.
The shorter format of the game became an instant sensation and in 1989 FIFA took control of the sport. It rebranded and officiated the sport by introducing official rules and organising the first Futsal World Cup in the Netherlands in the same year.
Since then the sport has grown exponentially with countless international tournaments and leagues being established all over the globe -- from America to Iran.
This wave of popularity has also swept Pakistan with numerous futsal courts being established in all nooks and corners of the country. Many of the famous clubs such as Karachi’s prestigious Sind Club have transformed their tennis courts into futsal courts to satisfy the public’s growing appetite for the sport.
Futsal has become a cash cow for many small and large clubs operating in the country. The Clifton and Defense area of Karachi is littered with several futsal courts. The game is an extremely profitable venture. Unlike football, the cement pitches do not require expensive maintenance work. The addition of lighting has made Ramazan futsal a must on the calendars of many of the sport’s enthusiasts.
The Futsal Federation of Pakistan (FFP) is the sport’s official governing body in the country. This organisation works independently of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) and has been established to spot and promote Pakistan’s futsal talent. Like most of Pakistan’s sporting bodies, the FFP too is confined by the lack of finances.
The role of this nascent organisation is very important for the success of Pakistan at the international level. Although the sport has a vigorously growing youth fan base, without proper equipment and training facilities these players would not hold their own in international events.
It is rather unrealistic to expect the Pakistani government to provide a platform for the sport. Under the government’s watch, many of Pakistan’s sports have sunk to the ground.
Inter-school tournaments can spur the growth of futsal in the country.
The game’s success lies in its fast-paced nature that enchants the players and the spectators alike.
There are five players on the field of each team, one of whom is a goalkeeper. Unlimited substitutions can be made during a match, which consists of two halves each of twenty minutes. The futsal pitch is made of wood or an artificial material and the length of the field is in the range of 38-42 meters and the width 20-25 meters in international matches.
Ironically, the game most commonly played inside a cage will break the shackles for football in Pakistan. The immense popularity of futsal and the relative ease of availability of futsal facilities across the country have made this sport a favourite among the youth. This popularity could result in a surge of participants for the longer format of the game as well.
Although Pakistan did not make it to the Futsal World Cup which is to be held in Colombia this year, there have been certain advances.
Ghosts FC Peshawar were able to clinch the Red Bull Neymar Junior’s Five Pakistan Championship held in Islamabad. The Ghosts defeated Karachi in the finals of the tournaments that attracted a very large and vocal crowd. The gathering of such a crowd is an extremely positive indication of the future of the sport as it sent a very clear message that the Pakistanis have space in their hearts for sports other than cricket.
Ghosts FC have grabbed once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to travel to Brazil in July this year for the world finals of the Red Bull Neymar Jr’s Five Global Championship, to be staged in Santos, the hometown of Brazilian striker Neymar Jr.
It is opportunities like these that will captivate the nation’s youth.
Futsal also provides a bridge to football as it enhances the abilities of the players. In fact, practising this smaller version of the game has been a tactic employed by many football coaches. The smaller court sizes and limited number of players force players to interact more with the ball than they would do in a football match.
This increased contact with the ball forces players to make quicker decisions under pressure.
Furthermore, the close proximity enhances the dribbling ability of the players because more fluent dribbling and close-knitted passing is essential for goal scoring.
Could this caged sport become the saving grace for football in a country consumed by its love for cricket? The ball is in the FFP’s court. Can it transform enthusiastic youngsters into internationally known players?