Islamabad: Pakistan’s football team may not be participating in the tournament in Qatar but football fans have created an engaging sports experience using art to celebrate the game and inspire youth, especially girls, to take up the sport.
Boys, girls and adults all came together to paint walls in the Siddiq neighbourhood in the Malir area of Karachi city with portraits of famous football players and flags of countries participating in the FIFA World Cup 2022 tournament to capture their devotion and passion for the game. The colourful street art and celebration of football in Pakistan also attracted global attention when FIFA, the international governing body of football, also shared the photos from Karachi on Twitter.
Football brings the community together
“The whole community came together to paint these walls to celebrate the game and share their love for football. It looks so beautiful. It feels like FIFA is not just happening in Qatar but also in Siddiq Goth Malir” in Karachi, said Dr Sabina Hussain, a resident of Siddiq Goth.
As the world’s attention turned to the football championship, Sabina decided to begin painting the neighbourhood streets to express her passion for football in the community that loves football more than cricket in this part of Karachi city. “We love football more than cricket and this is how we express our love,” she says.
Every year, football fans in Karachi’s neighbourhoods of Malir and Lyari, also known as mini Brazil, put up the flags of their favourite football teams on their rooftops and also paint the flags and portraits of football players. The most commonly seen posters and paintings on the walls are of Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Brazil’s star Neymar.
The community has paid for the street art out of their own pockets. Gul Baloch Football club members, families and even kids pooled money to buy paintbrushes and colours to decorate their neighbourhood and celebrate the football festival.
Art project inspires girls
Sabina, an eye doctor and an ardent football fan, realised that it was mostly men who would paint the walls each year while the equally excited women would just watch the games at their homes.
“I decided to change it this year by stepping out and started painting the walls. Soon, more girls, more families came out and joined me” she said.
“These girls are amazing at both arts and sports. Why should their talent be restricted?”
The collaborative art project celebrates the world cup football tournament but is making a profound impact on the community. It encourages girls to take up the sport and convinces their parents to believe in and support their daughters. “It is bigger than the last World Cup. It is also about getting more girls to play and inspiring a new generation of sports stars” in Pakistan.
Sabina, who used to play football as a student, is hopeful that the paintings and street art would promote empowerment among girls and allow them to express their thoughts and dreams through art.
The street art project “offers them similar opportunities to be as involved in the community activities as the boys”. There are still fewer opportunities and sports infrastructure for girls to participate in sports but societal attitudes are slowly changing and families are supporting girls and women to pursue their dreams. “My father and my husband have been very supportive when she decided to go out and paint the walls,” she said.
Sabina may be the first woman in her neighbourhood to paint the walls, to celebrate her passion for football, but she inspired many more girls and women.
“There are so many girls like me who want to play this beautiful game. There is a dire need for athletic facilities and a safe environment where girls can play sports, and learn new skills from experts” says Amina Baloch, a young resident of Siddiq Goth in Karachi.
Community celebrate and enjoy the game together
With the streets all painted and flags of football teams fluttering, the residents of Siddiq Goth are now enjoying football games together on a big projector screen they have installed.
“We are now enjoying the World Cup matches. The atmosphere is electrifying,” she said.
While most football fans in Pakistan are supporting Brazil (ranked number 1) and Argentina, Sabina says that her favourite team is Germany.