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SOCIETY

WORLD CUP WITHOUT PAKISTANI FOOTBALL

The country has lost millions of dollar worth of export orders and the image as the maker of World Cup footballs

By SYED M. ASLAM
June 17 - 23, 2002

Never mind the fact that Pakistani squad does not make up the 32 teams fighting it out for the FIFA World Cup football play down. Forget also that the game receives the step motherly treatment from the policy makers of the country. And yet the FIFA World Cup frenzy has hit the sports lovers across the country.

Termed the biggest sports event ever, the World Cup 2002 is held in Asia for the first time ever, jointly hosted by Japan and South Korea. Japan is expected to room and board some 440,000 football enthusiasts to view the game while South Korea has deployed an unprecedented police force of an almost equal number of policemen.

The defending champion France hit the dust in its very first group match against rookies Senegal, a first time qualifier which shined to make it for the second round. Routed also was Argentina, a former World Cup champion and also a match. Sixteen teams made it to the final including favourite Brazil and mavericks Senegal, the US, Japan, South Korea, the co-hosts of the event.

Like elsewhere, the World Cup event also seem to make a good sales pitch, and copy, here in Pakistan. A progressive car manufacturer, foreign electronics giants marketing its imported home appliances into the country, a four-star hotel and a number of other entrepreneurs have found the World Cup a handy slogan to sell their products and services. Though the volume and value of such World-Cup-theme-backed marketing promotions make up only fraction of the total advertisement what is surprising is the fact that since the last event in 1998, the number of such campaigns have increased this year.

Korean giants Samsung and LG are trying to increase their sales in the country by pitching large and regular screen televisions sets in the country to lure sports enthusiasts. International hotel chain Sheraton has installed large screen televisions in the restaurants, lobbies and corridors as well as offering free welcome drinks to attract the walk-in crowd. The hotel attracted the international media attention on May 8 with the suicide bombing killing French naval workers took place right on its very door. The drying up foreign traffic and eviction of foreigners called by their respective governments due to highly tense military standoff between nuclear powers of India and Pakistan have hurt the hotel business profoundly and the promotion is hoped to neutralize at least some of the loss.

Despite lack of official as well as unofficial recognition and support football mania has seemed to move the Pakistanis albeit not so strongly as in the rest of the world. However, people are watching the matches live on their television sets and the outcomes are discussed out in public about the merits or otherwise of a certain team and their scoring points. People are in touch with day-to-day progress of the game and in the absence of national participation have their own favourites which differ from person to person.

Besides the live coverage, the recorded reruns of the matches are also being telecast for the convenience of those who were unable to watch a particular countdown for whatever reasons. The star performance of rookie Senegal and its entry into the second round have provided many with a favourite, as Senegal is the only Muslim brethren fighting it all out to lift the coveted trophy.

The routing of France and Argentina has left the field wide open for new entrants and aspirants like Senegal, Japan, South Korea, and the US. However, everyone is aware of the presence of such giants as Brazil, Germany and England and also Spain which has performed strongly being the only team besides Brazil to win all the three matches to score 9 points.

PAKISTANI FOOTBALL?

The previous World Cups helped the Pakistani sports goods industry a real boost, not as much export earnings but rather in the jubilant feeling that the footballs used in the events were made in Pakistan. This year, however, the event organizers have opted for a new provider, Nigeria, which has deprived Sialkot-based export-oriented sports goods industry not only a good amount of foreign exchange but also a good deal of goodwill.

Many observers feel that the decision to buy footballs from Nigeria instead of Pakistan is driven more by finance than by politics. There are also those who seem to disagree and say that it is just the opposite saying that the change of heart is in fact a move to pressure the exports-oriented sports goods about the alleged child labour. Whatever, the case may be the country has lost millions of dollar worth of export orders and the image as the maker of World Cup footballs.

It is not possible to calculate the exact impact of the financial loss as repeated attempts and fax failed to get any response from the chairman of Pakistan Sports Goods Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Arif Mohammad Shaikh. If trends are any indications, one thing, however, remains certain the World Cup football frenzy will increase in years to come and so would be their financial, social and cultural impact.