Karachi United: passing on hope with football
November 25 2019 10:05 PM

WINNERS: The team of Karachi United U12 and U11 in a group photo.

Shehar Bano Rizvi

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 develop the sport of football in Pakistan starting at the very grass root level. They have over 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 and health assistance. Basically, they are changing lives through football.
KU was recently invited by Aspire Academy to participate in Tri-Series. KU bagged the Tri-Series title in U12 and U11 categories by winning against Fenerbahce SK and Aspire Academy, respectively.
Most of the players of KU are the kids who come from underprivileged community of Lyari, a slum in Karachi, Pakistan. Some of them have had never been on a plane before, whilst few others who did, was only because of their participation in KU. KU has been coming to Doha for the previous few years to take part in football tournaments and matches. 
KU works closely with Generation Amazing, a programme that was established in 2010
during Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Following Qatar winning the 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, including 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. Three GA youth ambassadors also hail from Lyari.
KU was founded by Taha Alizai, Imran Ali and Ali Ata, who apart from their day jobs, dedicate themselves towards the academy and the football little champs. 
Community recently sat down with Taha Alizai and Imran Ali to talk about Karachi United and founding it from scratch.

What was the vision behind 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 see 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 got to be here for 20-30 years and then you’ll 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.

What’s the story behind KU?
To be honest, it was initiated with the selfish reason of wanting to play ourselves. However, it grew more than that 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 realised 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 Men’s and Women’s professional teams. 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!

How many centres do you have?
We have 11 centres in Karachi which caters over 1,000 children, including 200 girls, which we consider a huge change because these girls come from underprivileged areas of Karachi. We believe that we are changing mindsets. As these girls go through the training process, they’ll realise the importance of sport, education and healthy living and they’ll transfer it to the next generation to come. So it’s about the small steps that we take today. So we are trying to build an institution that will carry its legacy forward.

How has it helped the community?
We organise a lot of community tournaments. When we used to play in DHA Karachi, we used to invite teams from Lyari for the tournament. They would come on their cycles just to play on a grass pitch under the lights. One of their coaches, Rustam told us that their team usually plays on mud pitches in their area. It’s a step change for the community because now we have had formal programmes within these communities. Many kids get into shady business because they don’t have anything else to do in those areas. 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 organised environment. Everybody improves their game and understands well that they have to be disciplined and have to respect everybody. That’s a step towards betterment and change. And looking at these kids with opportunities such as coming to Qatar coming their way, others look upto them and want to be a part of KU. 
So our community programme when it started was to make a profound impact on youth. For us, sustainability means consistency. We don’t want to exponentially grow and have 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 that we want to 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 community. It’s been almost 6 to 7 years, since we have formally started our community programmes where professional doctors/medical students also 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 programme, 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.

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 programme 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 former 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 day, 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.

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