Friday, June 11, 2010

"To make something special, you first have to believe it's special"


Freestyle football has been generating a lot of interest in recent times, especially since being pushed to the fore by advertising campaigns, online video clips, and, most recently, by freestyling championships. This year, 19-year-old Areeb Iqbal got the chance to represent Pakistan at the 2010 Red Bull Street Style (RBSS) World Championships that took place in Cape Town, South Africa. The event that was held in April saw some of the world's most talented freestylists from around the globe compete for the honour. We got a chance to ask Areeb about the sport and his experience of participating in the championships; here's what he had to say:

Us: Tell Us a bit about yourself.
Areeb Iqbal: I am 19 years old and currently in my second semester of Electrical Engineering from FAST. I am a football freestyler. My hobbies are sketching, playing guitar and listening to music.

Us: When did you start freestyling? And what prompted you to take up the sport?
Areeb: I started freestyling around the end of November last year. My dream was to be a professional football player and I have been playing football since 2006 at GSA (Gulshan Soccer Academy). The pure spirit and the freedom of expressing myself through freestyling attracted me towards it; the sheer love and passion for the game increased day by day and now it's everything to me.

Us: How did you qualify for the Red Bull Street Style World Championships? How tough was the competition in the national level finals?
Areeb: I took part in the RBSS qualifications in Karachi and ultimately got selected in the top 16 of Pakistan who were to battle it out for the ultimate crown. In Pakistan's national finals, I just wanted to prove myself; it wasn't about winning or losing but rather making my mark in that historic event. The competition was really tough. My aim from the start was to entertain the judges and the audience, I tried to perform with a clear and relaxed mind without thinking of making it to the next round and that's where things got into place. I am grateful to Allah that he helped me get through it all, and my friends who were a great support at the event.

Us: How was the experience of participating in the championship that was held in South Africa?
Areeb: The event was a life changing experience. At the very start of my freestyling career, I lived the dream of practising at the biggest stage with freestyle pioneers. Five days in Cape Town was just the most amazing time of my life. The talent and skills of freestylers was double that of the previous RBSS. And it was a proud moment for me to take my nation's flag there among all the other countries.

Us: How do you feel about your performance at the event? And what did you learn from it?
Areeb: For me, representing my country and carrying Pakistan's flag around my shoulders was the proudest moment of my life. I gave it my best because at that moment it wasn't just about Areeb Iqbal, it was about who Areeb Iqbal is. But this surely isn't goodbye from my side, it's hello. Next year, I will be going back, bigger, better and stronger.

Us: How did you train for the event?
Areeb: I trained really hard for RBSS world finals after winning the national finals. I practised for around five to six hours daily, always trying to come up with something new and different, and then tried pulling it off with style and adding a flow to my tricks. I tried to move the ball and my body with the beat of the music that in turn made my technical tricks look more artistic.

Us: Did you face any difficulties while training or competing?
Areeb: Managing my studies and university life with my training was one of the biggest challenges I had to face. Along with that, I faced a whole lot of criticism from people who thought I was doing something that is not worthy. But that's how life treats us. "To make something special you first have to believe it's special." From the very start I believed in myself and this made me strive harder in my practice sessions. And I would love to thank all my friends, family and people who supported me all this time. "I'm very lucky to have wings and people to fly with."

Us: In your opinion, what importance do such events hold for our athletes and our country?
Areeb: These types of events are really good and motivating for people who are doing something extraordinary and out of the box. Still, it's hard for them to get proper recognition. Pakistan is filled with talent in every single mainstream or alternative sport. Its people have a lot of potential; there is just the need to bring such talents into the limelight. Through this, we can create a good change in the image of the Pakistanis in front of the world and represent the country's name with pride.

Us: What difference did you see/feel between Pakistan and South Africa (with respect to sports)?
Areeb: They are hosting the FIFA World Cup this year and Pakistan is not even close to that for the next 25 years or so. Athletes and sportsmen there are credited for what they are doing and they also get proper support from their government. Apart from that, each respective sport has been provided with proper facilities. Regarding the talent and skills, I think Pakistan is not behind them; it's just lacking in support and proper platform to acknowledge the talent. In the near future, I am sure we will achieve much more.

Us: What do you think of the current situation of sports in Pakistan?
Areeb: When one thinks about Pakistan and sports, the first thing that comes to one's mind is cricket, or hockey maybe. Most of the other sports are pretty much neglected in our country, which shouldn't be the case. Cricketers get a total different form of respect than footballers in our country. I think this really needs to change now. We should really think about making our country's name shine in all of the sports, not sticking to just one or two major streams.

Us: What can be done to improve the state of sports in our country, both generally and with respect to freestyle football?
Areeb: Incentives should be given by the government to provide the proper facilitation to all the sports. It can only happen through the support of the government, so that athletes can take sports as their career and move forward in it. Freestyling is at its starting stage in Pakistan and awaiting its rise. The need to acknowledge this game as a proper sport is really necessary for all the freestylers of Pakistan so that we can continue our career in freestyling and do what we love to do and make a living out of it. A separate federation or association can be made to organise all the football freestyle activities in the country. It can help the players by conducting foreign tours, and by inviting professional freestylers from across the globe to train the upcoming kids who want to learn more about this game. I am sure that freestyle is going to be really big in Pakistan one day and that day will come soon.

Us: Do you plan to continue competing?
Areeb: Definitely. Football freestyle is my passion, it's everything to me and I don't think that I am ever going to stop. I am training myself harder and harder everyday. I will go beyond the limit and train myself to the extent of conquering new and untouched boundaries of freestyling. I have a dream - 2014 Pakistan RBSS World Champion.

Us: Any message for the readers?
Areeb: If you really love something and you're proud of what you are doing, only then can you achieve it. Just be proud of who you are and always believe in yourself and in what you are doing. I just want to tell all the people aspiring for sports like freestyling to stay determined and never give up. Everything you do, do it for yourself - not for showing off in front of others, because it's not how you say it but how you do it.

- S.A

Us Magazine, The News - 11 June, 2010