Football, fun and solidarity: Spanish academy wins the ball on Pakistan pitch

By Jaime Leon

Islamabad, Mar 12 (efe-epa).- A soccer academy founded by Spain’s Jose Alonso Sanchez in Pakistan seeks to spread fun and solidarity in a country where cricket remains the most popular sport, but soccer is gaining ground slowly.

Founded in October 2019 by Alonso with 35 boys and girls, the Spanish Football Academy (SFA) now has 95 aspirant footballers, aged between three and 12, most of whom have never played the sport.

A group of small children chased one another for the ball amid cries of excitement and enthusiasm at one end of an Islamabad field.

In another part of the field, slightly older ones were practicing to hold possession against rival players.

“Football has to be fun, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. They’re not my words, they are by Johan Cruyff. And we’re trying to do that,” Alonso told EFE.

The 47-year-old Spaniard is familiar with the South Asian country.

He married a Pakistani woman in 2007 and settled in Islamabad in 2017.

Cricket is, of course, Pakistan’s most popular sport. Across the country, children play in parks and by-lanes with the same zeal for soccer in Europe.

However, little by little, soccer is making progress.

“In 2007, it was impossible to see a soccer ball and now you go to the parks and start seeing the people, especially the younger ones, playing,” said Alonso.

“Cricket is certainly still the top sport here, but I am completely convinced that in five or 10 years football will also become a religion like cricket,” he said.

At the moment, one can say that soccer has only been making minor inroads in the Muslim country.

The Pakistan national team is at 200th place in the FIFA World Rankings and has never qualified for a World Cup.

The country’s top division league lasts only four months, and the players are not professionals.

Moreover, Alonso believes that Pakistan lacks a soccer culture. “They need to watch more soccer on TV,” he remarked.

However, he expects things to change, see more children enrolling in his academy.

Besides, the Spaniard’s project also focuses on solidarity.

The SFA is trying to open an academy free of cost for youth in Chitral, an area in the impoverished northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In October last year, they held a camp in that region, and later 38 girls from that there traveled to Islamabad, where they underwent soccer training for a week with SFA free of cost.

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