LAHORE: The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) may have been suspended by the FIFA and Pakistan failed to qualify for this year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, but the 2018 FIFA World Cup trophy is coming to Pakistan next month. The trophy tour kicked off in September 2017 in Russia and will see the trophy travelling approximately 126,000km in nine months before eventually returning to Russia. The trophy tour includes 50 countries from six continents, with Pakistan being among those countries for the very first time. The suspension of the PFF had raised fears that the trophy may not come to Pakistan, but FIFA’s World Cup partner and one of the main sponsors Coca Cola made it sure that Pakistan stay on the tour.
Coca Cola General Manager for Pakistan and Afghanistan Rizwan Khan revealed about the trophy tour here Thursday. “As a Pakistani, I am very excited,” Rizwan told media at a local hotel. “This will increase awareness in our youth and revive a culture of football. I foresee Pakistan playing in the World Cup in the future as well,” he maintained. Rizwan said bringing the trophy to the country was not easy. “There was a lot of competition. Many countries were vying for it. We can’t comment on the PFF-FIFA issue but this is a big deal for Pakistan.” He said the trophy, after arriving in Lahore, would be taken to two or three different venues of the city. “We want to revive football in Pakistan and this trophy tour is a step in the right direction to drive interest among football fans in Pakistan,” he added. After a day in Lahore, the trophy will be taken to Almaty, Kazakhstan. The FIFA World Cup trophy, introduced in 1974, is made of 18 karat gold with a malachite base, it stands 36.8 centimeters high and weighs 6.1 kilograms. The trophy depicts two human figures holding up the earth.
The day FIFA imposed the ban on Pakistan in October last year for third party interference, Faisal Saleh Hayat, recognised by FIFA as the PFF chief, claimed that the ban had ended the chances of the World Cup trophy from coming to the country. “Due to my diplomatic efforts in international football, Pakistan had been included among the 50 destinations for the FIFA World Cup trophy tour but Pakistan will now be excluded from it,” Hayat had claimed in a video posted on social media. Those claims were put to rest with a formal announcement of the trophy tour yesterday. The last two years have seen football come to a standstill in the country and while there have been some high-profile football events, including a tour involving Brazilian legend Ronaldinho and others for a series of exhibition matches, it doesn’t get bigger than the fans getting a chance to get up close and personal with the World Cup trophy. They can take pictures with the trophy, which will be in a glass case, but no one, apart from World Cup winners, the FIFA president and the heads of state, can touch it.
A delegation of 16 Pakistanis, including representatives from the media, Coca Cola and the national football team, will join the tour in Chiang Mai, Thailand to receive the trophy and bring it to Lahore. The trophy will remain in Pakistan for one day and will be shown to the media and thousands of football fans. “A Pakistani fan will also get the opportunity to participate in the coin toss in the match between Brazil and Costa Rica in the group stages,” said Rizwan. The 2018 World Cup will be played in Russia from June 14 to July 15. A total of 32 teams will contest to become the football’s world champions. Pakistan failed to edge past pre-qualifiers for the event. However, the fans in Pakistan will still have an opportunity to have a glimpse of glittering trophy at home.
Published in Daily Times, January 12th 2017.