Last week, I got a call from a dear friend (my friends now know what stories inspire me!) that Karachi United team is in Doha for a Tri- Series arranged by Aspire Academy and if I would like to meet the kids and the people behind the club. I was extremely intrigued by their story and at the same time in utter disbelief that the club has been around for 20 years and I never knew about them!The moment I heard the story, I knew I had to write about them and let others (like me), know what these amazing individuals are doing for the future of Pakistan.
Karachi United is a football club that was set up with a vision to provide a platform for achieving football excellence in Pakistan. Now among the premier football teams in Pakistan, KU is dedicated to developing the sport of football in Pakistan starting at the very grass root level. They have 11 centres across Karachi, and now a stadium as well, where they provide free football coaching to kids from the underprivileged communities, providing them educational assistance and health assistance. Basically, they are changing lives through football.They were recently invited by Aspire to participate in a Tri-Series and I had the opportunity to meet the kids, who all came from the underprivileged communities and had never been on a plane! These kids were so full of energy, hope and last but not the least – some serious skills! I went to the see their friendly match with Aspire Academy where these kids (who play in mud grounds with such limited resources) won 7-2 against Aspire Academy!
Qatar has played a vital role in KU’s journey. Generation Amazing has been changing lives since 2010, when it was established during Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup™️. Following Qatar winning hosting rights, the programme was enthusiastically taken up by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy. Generation Amazing uses football for development initiatives to address social issues in countries with an identified need, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
- In Pakistan, Generation Amazing(GA) has delivered the programme to communities in Lyari in Karachi, Thatta in Sindh and Mardan in KPK.
- For Lyari, Pakistan’s cradle of football, GA built a full-size turf pitch at Karachi United’s home in Southern Karachi.
- In collaboration with Right to Play (RTP), GA’s delivery partner on the ground, youth from Lyari benefited from GA’s life skills development program with a focus on football for development including education through sport.
- Three GA youth Ambassadors hail from Lyari. All three travelled to Doha and Brazil during the 2014 FIFA World Cup™️ along as a group of 22 Ambassadors from other parts of Pakistan, Nepal, Jordan and Qatar. These Ambassadors remain GA’s inspiration to continue to grow.
I had a chat with the three founding members of KU, Imran, Taha and Arshan and was totally intrigued by their story. These three have their day jobs, families and yet take about 2-3 hours every day for these kids and the academy.
Q: What drove you guys to create Karachi United?
KU was created to develop a sport in Pakistan that was non existent, to build up an industry that would not only provide hope for millions of children (which we feel it is doing today) but also create employment opportunities, with an aim for one day to bring Pakistan represented as the top 32 teams in the World cup because we do have the pedigree. It’s a long-term vision though. You cannot change the culture or develop talent in a few months. If you are part of the story you gotta be here for 20-30 years and then inshaAllah we will start making waves (which we think we are now) competing against Aspire (with all the facilities and talent they have) and proving that we can compete. It is now absolutely important to continue the nurturing process.
Q: What’s the story behind KU?
To be frank, it was started with the selfish reason that we wanted to play ourselves! However, it grew when we started our youth programme and set up a Karachi league in 2003, set up school championship in 2005, started having tours abroad like Charlton club and Qatar. In 2009 we realized that we were affecting two spheres – one was football excellence and the other was the community. For a lot of people, these are very distinct areas – you are looking at talent development or you are looking at the community. For us, the two were intertwined. We decided we can make an impact in our community through our centres, by doing free football coaching, educational assistance, health assistance while simultaneously working on the football development plan which is our passion by developing our own teams. So finally we have set up our Mens and Womens professional teams, we have a thriving academy and within that the age teams (under 10, under 11 all the way up to under 18). It’s been a long journey! Although it has been 20 years, in a way we are just beginning… it’s all coming together now and we are cognizant of the fact that we still got a long way to go!
Q: How many centres do you guys have?
11 centres in Karachi which caters to over a 1000 children including 200 girls which we think is a huge change because these girls are not in privileged areas of Karachi but are coming from Orangi, Lyari where we fully believe that we are changing mindsets and for generations because it is these girls that go through these training by coaches that will realize the importance of sport, education and healthier living cause tomorrow they will be mothers and when they are mothers they will take it forward.So it’s not about the change that we make today, it’s about the mindsets that we develop and Insha Allah that will take us forward. It’s about the small steps that we take today and maybe when we finally get there we are not around, maybe its the next set of people. So we are trying to build an institution that will carry it’s legacy forward.
Q: How has it helped the community?
We organize a lot of community tournaments. When we used to play in Rahat in DHA, we would invite teams from Lyari who would come on their cycles to play, because they wanted to play on a grass pitch under the lights. One of the coaches Rustam was one of them and said it was a highlight for them because they normally play on mud pitches in their areas.
It’s a step change for the community because now we have had formal programs within these communities. When we think why would these kids get into crime and gangs, its because they have nothing to do, as they have like small houses with no electricity -obviously they will go out and not be sitting in dark rooms. Then they would be just loitering around the streets. One of our coaches said that its very easy for gangs to give these kids Rs 1000 (who have never even seen Rs 50) to keep a watch for them and alert them if someone is coming. So what we have done is that we have tried to pull them out of there and given them a safe space to come 5 times a week. We give them a kit, there are footballs, cones and equipment and coaches in jerseys. It’s an organized environment and they also feel that it’s professional and then everybody raises their game and understand that they have to be disciplined and have to respect everybody and its been a step change for them. And looking at these kids and then with them getting opportunities such as coming to Qatar (when they haven’t been on a plane), that incentivizes many more kids that we want to be part of this thing.So our community program when it started, it was to make a profound impact on youth and communities. When these big funds ask us about how you make it sustainable? For us, sustainability means that even if we are doing it small we continue doing it. We don’t want to exponentially grow and have a hundred centres and then 2 years later 90 of them close down. We have tried to keep it small and focused. Also the way we look at sustainability is we wanna make sustainable communities, by getting them out, getting them to play, even getting the mothers to come out and play. The idea is to make healthier, active and more engaged communities. Its been 6-7 years now since we have formally started our community programs, where we take professional doctors/ medical students to talk to them about sanitation, hygiene and sometimes they just need access to professionals to talk to in their own confines.In our recently crafted Sponsor a Child program, we have bunked in education as well, because until they can think fast enough, they won’t be able to do fast enough. Critical thinking is very important, and therefore education is very important.
Q: How do you guys manage KU with your other Full-Time Jobs?
We have about 10-12 full-time staff which includes a community administrator, a community program manager, brand manager, an academy manager and social media manager, and we have recently hired someone to look after fundraising from a sustainability perspective and some coaches. There are 150 other part-time coaches. Some of the coaches are from their own communities and some of them are ex-national team players. So in a way, KU not only gives hope to the younger kids but to others that can be leaders in their community.
What keeps us going is our passion. It helps us release stress from our day jobs. We give about 2.5 hours of our days, every day to these kids either early morning before work or after work or sometimes even during lunch breaks! Also, we have to give credit to our supporting spouses, who understand our passion for the game.
It was such a heartwarming experience for me to interact with these kids, to see them here in Qatar making Pakistan proud!
Support Karachi United support these kids – that’s the least we can do!