After building a bridge between the people of England and Afghanistan through a football match for peace, co-founder of Football For Peace (FFP) Kashif Siddiqi, an English-born Pakistani footballer who has played at both professional and international levels as a defender, aims to bring the communities of India and Pakistan together through a peace match.
“Our charity’s mission is to bring communities and nations around the globe together and create understanding through football, especially where football can give hope and politics will struggle. Our CEO is in touch with both federations on a future Peace Match.
This would showcase the power of football diplomacy at a global level. In 2015, we also unified Great Britain and Afghanistan and the same team played against a team of UN Ambassadors,” Kashif Siddiqi told The Statesman in an exclusive interview.
With high-profile backing from the United Nations Office on Sports for Development of Peace and the English Premier League (EPL), the task at hand seems cut out for FFP.
This won’t be the first time Kashif will be bringing his highly influential bandwagon to the country. Earlier in 2016, FFP had flown down their ambassador, the Brazilian legend Ronaldhino, to Kerala and launched their pilot project which helped create awareness about women empowerment. They also went ahead and gave away educational toolkits.
“It was an unbelievable experience. Starting from when Ronaldinho and our team arrived at the airport, 100 thousand people turned up. We couldn’t even leave the plane. It was humbling to see such a great following for football in Kerala, which we already knew about, but it was breath-taking nonetheless.
We ran a pilot programme and bought our ambassador Ronaldinho over. We worked with a girls’ school to contribute towards women empowerment and bespoke our educational toolkits,” the FFP co-founder explained.
Kashif, an ex-footballer, has had a rollercoaster career in football, having both ups and downs through injury. He grew up in the English Professional League system with Arsenal FC and Middlesex County.
In 2013, he became the only one in five British South Asians to have been signed by an English Professional League Club, Northampton FC. He was also fortunate to be the first British South Asian to be awarded a scholarship for soccer in the USA and played football in Europe, North America and the Middle East.
While his achievements may be inspiring, it hasn’t been an easy road for Siddiqi. In 2005, he suffered a major injury which almost put an end to his short career. However, he fought through and managed to regain full fitness.
Unfortunately, in 2010, Siddiqi was sidelined again for 18 months after being wrongly diagnosed. The misdiagnosis caused several complications which has had an effect on his international and club career.
Regardless of the setbacks, he has played and broken through many barriers at a high level on a global stage and is enjoying a successful career.
Having been in the face of a hostile environment during his days at Northampton Town, a third-tier side in English football currently, Kashif wants to inculcate the attitude of tolerance and equality.
“We are living in a world that has never been so connected and yet has seldom felt so divided. Fear of different cultures, customs and beliefs has led to increased misunderstanding and isolation, leaving communities disenfranchised,” Kashif said.
“Football for Peace is a diplomatic football movement that brings people together & creates understanding through the ‘beautiful game’. We have projects in different cities across the world, which focus on breaking down the barriers of cultural differences, and uniting people of different backgrounds. Through football we educate future generations on the importance of tolerance, inclusion and equality,” he added.
“The plan is to take our city for peace programme into 10 cities over the next 3 years and to host a Peace Match. This match will be held in an iconic location to raise awareness of football diplomacy and promote a message of peace by international dignitaries, royalty and footballers to attend and play in the match,” Kashif signed off.