By: Naqash Ali
There was a time not long ago when you’d see expats and diplomats walking around the cosy confines of Islamabad without fear of their safety. Fast forward to 2001 and you’d see this phenomenon as rare as a leopard sighting in a city that’s nestled between the majestic Margalla Hills.
For years, Pakistan has struggled to be accepted as a place of choice for people from all around the world. With the country and its military embroiled in a conflict to root out extremist elements from far and beyond, it was a monumental task that required blood, sweat and tears.
Eventually though, the vestiges of that Islamabad we once knew during the early and late 90s is returning even though the journey is very long and will most definitely be a testing one for that matter.
Last year, a company named Leisure Leagues, which is owned by World Group which is a consortium of several business interests of the Trunkwala Family, conducted a football activity whose sole purpose was to give an outside-of-the-Diplomatic-Enclave activity to diplomats of various diplomatic missions on a regular basis.
The Leisure Diplomatic League has come really far from its first season where around 18 embassies were represented. Season two was an even bigger success for the company that’s leading the procession that is considered a football revival promenade in the country by the budding footballing fraternity.
The Season II of the Diplomatic League featured diplomatic missions from Great Britain, Spain, France, Sweden, Norway, Japan, China, Egypt, Turkey, Thailand and Brazil. Matches took place every Saturday at a local football facility.
Leisure Leagues also organized One day Diplomatic Tournament in which diplomats and employees from Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Europe, Nigeria and Russia embassy show interest. Matches took place at Jinnah Stadium Sports Complex Islamabad which is very close to the country’s current Prime Minister’s residence in Bani Gala.
Ambassador of Greece, H.E Mr. Dimitris Hatzopoulos was the Chief Guest in Leisure Leagues Diplomatic Tournament while event was attended by Mr. Anas Mehmood Trunkwala, Mr. Zabe Khan, Mr. Brig Nusrat Hayat, Mr. Brig Sajid, Mr. Bahrullah Hazarvi, Nigerian Ambassador H.E Maj. Gen Retired Ashomiyu Adebayo Olaniyi and Masoor Ahmed Khan.
During the Closing Ceremony of Leisure Leagues Diplomatic Tournament, I had a chance to catch up with Anas Mehmood Trunkwala who has been heading Leisure Leagues from start. Mr. Anas Trunkwala says that the idea behind this league was first to send the message of football being a universal game that doesn’t categorize people depending on where they come from and then to send a message to the world that Pakistan is as safe as any country in the world.
“Pakistan has been through some testing times but I hope that what we achieved in the two seasons of the Diplomatic League plays a part in realigning a generalized stance that you see globally about our country. Of course this league is going to be bigger and better in the coming months and we are going to involve more and more diplomatic missions in the future.”
Ambassador of Greece, H.E Mr. Dimitris Hatzopoulos, who was the chief guest at the closing ceremony, said that, I got surprise to learn about the nomination as chief guest in today’s football tournament, but soon afterward I realized why not sports and athletic has always been in the Hearts of Greeks. In ancient times Greece organized the almost 3 kinds of all the games every 4 years in this span of 12 centuries. In the modern era of the elite games Greece organize them twice with great success. A longer way I thought they must be another more relevant explanation.
Greece is going to organized the next Socca World Cup this October. The tournament of International Socca Federation is host by an audience of millions online and TV. In just about every corner of world the gorgeous autumn sunshine on the island of Crete that was awarded top five tourist nation on the planet. Greece is preparing to welcome football teams from 32 countries among them from Pakistan for a whole week this October. I wish every success to the Pakistan Socca National Team.
Nigerian Ambassador H.E Maj. Gen Retired Ashomiyu Adebayo Olaniyi, said that, “Football is a game that requires a lot of team effort and seeing Leisure Leagues increase its footprint gives me great confidence that this venture is going to showcase the best qualities of Pakistan and its people.
One of the biggest successes of the league was not the quality of football or the fact that the league was like a social gathering for the diplomats and expatriates who rarely get to enjoy a side of Islamabad that us locals take for granted. Instead the biggest success was the fact that the embassies never had any security concerns when it came to taking a 20-minute drive to the venue where matches took place.
“It has been an amazing experience for me. I’ve been in Islamabad for almost a year and can safely say that this activity is very much needed for most of us diplomats. We rarely get a chance to go out in such large numbers. The management has been very cooperative at all levels and I must say that Leisure Leagues has really given us a great reason to look forward to the boring part where we usually don’t do much,” one diplomat who played regularly in both seasons said.
Indeed, the diplomatic community has shown a lot of interest in knowing more about Pakistan, its culture and how the city operates. During the league games, you would see the diplomats and other expats really getting along well with their peers and the locals without the fear of their safety – far away from the fabricated content that has been aired with regards to the country’s security dilemma.
One diplomat even showed off his excellent command of Urdu and admitted that he wanted to know more about Pakistan and spent some time learning as much of the local lingo as he could. This definitely shows that there is a willingness to discover more about Pakistan from those who are here for a rather short sojourn.
This practice is not uncommon but for those living in Islamabad, it is a huge motivation to do more to send out the correct image of Pakistan.
For a very long time, things had been dull for the diplomatic community in Islamabad. Thankfully Leisure Leagues has given our guest from all around the world something to really look forward to every week and us locals a great chance to further enhance the reputation of a country that has in past always shown a great determination to showcase its true spirit.
Today, Leisure Leagues is leading the line in this regard through a sport that is on the rise. Tomorrow, we hope to return to those days when you would see foreigners sitting at a local dhaba and enjoying a warm cup of doodh patti.
And while our guests get to have their local chai, the Trunkwala Family would be enthusiastically working behind the scenes to continue leading the football revolution and keep working on initiatives to make the diplomats feel at home in a city they are already falling in love with.