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Global Zalmi League: Rebuilding Pakistan’s Soft Image

The scourge of terrorism, in the post 9/11 era, did not only wreak havoc in terms of human and economic losses but also deprived the country of the privilege to enjoy international sporting events at home. The resulting lack of cultural exchange put Pakistan at a further disadvantage since the image portrayed by the international media became the world’s only source of information about Pakistan. Despite the massive sacrifices made by the Pakistan Armed Forces to root out this menace from the Land of the Pure, the world is slow in recognizing our efforts and successes in improving the security situation. This is because the collective memory of the international community is still colored with the past belligerent activities of non-state actors. Therefore, there is a dire need to rebuild Pakistan’s image as moderate and peace-loving country and to show the world the side of Pakistan which has been missing from the mainstream narrative.

Sports tend to be a vital element for promoting a country’s soft image. Cricket is especially significant in Pakistan’s case since it was the tragic attack on the Sri Lankan team which closed the doors of international cricket in Pakistan. Therefore, using cricket to rebuild Pakistan’s international image is extremely important. To this end, Peshawar Zalmi has undertaken the monumental task of improving Pakistan’s international image by bringing foreign players to Pakistan. The journey began by bringing international players to Pakistan for PSL 2016. Along with top-notch security provisions, the warm welcome these players received by the Pakistani nation sent out a loud and clear message that there’s more to Pakistan than what is being portrayed in the media. In fact, it is a country which is brimming with hospitality, cultural vibrancy and love for sports.

This was just the first step. In 2017, the franchise’s chairman, Mr. Javed Afridi, initiated the Global Zalmi League to further pave the way for bringing international cricket back home for good and to project Pakistan’s improved security situation. Persistent effort and hard work paid off when the franchise was able to host the entire tournament in Pakistan this year. Brining players from as many as 16 club teams such as States, Kabul, Ar Riyadh, Bonn, Shaoxing, Glasgow, London, Ontario, Paris, Vienna, Dubai, Joburg, Victoria, Torino, Bonn, Manama and Incheon was no small feat. The franchise single-handedly bore all the expenses of providing them the required security, accommodation, travel facilities and sports equipment and facilities. In addition to this, the players were provided with the opportunity to experience the culture and food of Pakistan firsthand. Cameron, a player from South Africa stated:

“It is my first time in Pakistan and the country has truly grown on me. Islamabad is a beautiful city and I honestly feel at home with all the mountainous surroundings. Pakistanis are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met”

Similarly, Hammad, a player from States Zalmi, who came back to Pakistan after 20 years said:

“…it’s amazing how advanced Pakistan really has become. There are all these applications like Uber and Careem. It honestly feels like there’s no difference between the cities here and back home”

When asked whether he would come back to Pakistan for the tournament next year, he responded:

“Absolutely. I’m going to tell the other guys as well about what a wonderful experience it has been. They were a bit scared about coming here but my telling them would definitely make them feel safe”

Cameron’s response wasn’t much different when he stated:

“Not only will I come back again but I will also ask my fellow cricketers to visit Pakistan since it is a cricket loving nation and the level of competition that I have seen here has been super intense. The image portrayed of Pakistan should change and when I go back I will portray the real image of the country”

The coach of Kabul Zalmi Naiz-ul-Islam expressed his feelings about coming to Pakistan said:

“Initially, it wasn’t clear whether the matches are going to be held in Pakistan or UAE. When we were told that the tournament is going to be in Pakistan, we were doubly excited because we have more supporters in Pakistan. Plus, the traditions and culture of both these countries are quite similar so we feel more at ease”

In response to the experience of the players and the arrangements of Peshawar Zalmi he stated:

“The management has been very supportive and hats off to their arrangements. We felt like we’re a part of a family. The way the people have treated us makes us feel like we’ve known each other for years. We will continue to visit Pakistan for the next 10 years because cricket is acting as a message of peace for people of these countries”

The views of these players clearly indicate that along with providing people with a platform to showcase their talent, the Global Zalmi League is acting as a means to promote Pakistan’s soft image by changing people’s perceptions – especially in the cricket playing nations and the International Cricket Council – about the law and order situation. Samiullah, a player from Ar Riyadh Zalmi said:

“…we feel quite relaxed over here and there hasn’t been a single incident that has made us regret coming to Pakistan. In fact, it’s amazing to play the tournament here since it allows the foreign players to enjoy the desi touch they miss while living overseas”

Sustained dissemination of such sentiments overseas will not only help Pakistan offset the dark shadow of terrorism but will also act as a means to revitalize the currently feeble tourism industry and cultural exchange programmes. Projecting the country’s soft image through sports would therefore have positive spillover effects for other sectors of the economy as well.

Sporting tournaments like Global Zalmi League will also play a constructive role in upgrading the country’s sports facilities. As a result of such events, local grounds would once again receive the required attention to ensure that they are up to the mark to host international standard tournaments. Additionally, involvement of internationally trained players will play a huge role in polishing the skills of the young local talent.

Peshawar Zalmi, through the Global Zalmi League, is thus achieving multiple goals at the same time. Firstly, it is contributing towards projecting Pakistan’s soft image by dispelling the misguided fears about the security situation in the minds of foreign players. Secondly, by inviting overseas players, it is creating a base for promoting the country’s tourist and cultural exchange sectors. Pakistan holds a massive potential for tourism. Additionally, the appreciation of the overseas players’ of Pakistan’s food and cultural heritage indicates that these sectors could be tapped into to boost the country’s economy. Finally, by organizing such events, Peshawar Zalmi is keeping its promise to the nation of bringing back smiles by facilitating the return of international cricket at home.