Football: Stepchild of Pak Olympic Association?

POA Stamp

Football’s exclusion from 31st National Games by POA is an outrage shared by the PFF and FPDC!

In recent times, there appears to be a growing rift between the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) and Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) over the status of football in Pakistan. Both Lahore-based entities have been at odds with each other for past 5-6 months this year on two separate occasions.

The first instance was when POA had initially decided to exclude football from its competition portfolio for the 2010 Asian Games held last month in Guangzhou, China. This news was not taken well by both the PFF and football supporters across the country. The reason of football’s exclusion by POA was due to the fact that football was not considered a ‘medal-worthy’ sport for the Asian Games, and also that the whole expenses of the football squad was to be POA’s sole responsibility.

While the cost-cutting reason by POA was understandable to an extent, to unceremoniously scrap football from 2010 Asian Games was in bad taste. The PFF had to plea POA and Asian Games organisers to reconsider their decision with the promise that the already cash-strapped PFF will bear all expenses of the football team to be sent to China! POA eventually relented barely 2 months before the Games were to take place.

The frantic last-minute squad registration and training camps for the Pakistan U23 team meant the team was not able to go at its full strength in terms of both match practice and squad. Many journalists in Pakistan ended up criticising PFF’s insistence on taking part, notably going after how PFF funded this team where the money could have rightly been used to desperately improve the Pakistan Premier Football League.

However, international experience was vital given how 2011 would bring Olympic qualifiers, AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, World Cup qualifiers, and SAFF Championship. So PFF’s insistence on taking part is also understandable, worth praising rather, given how a new-look Pakistan team was in the making that desperately needed to compete!

The brave Pakistan team under Bahrain’s Salman Ahmed Sharida of the 2006 Asian Games that fought back to lose 2-3 against mighty Japan , 0-1 to a lucky North Korea U23, and 0-2 to a strong Syria left a legacy which PFF wanted to repeat in style. However in 2010, the Akhtar Mohiuddin coached team faced some heavy defeats at the hands of Thailand and Oman and unluckily drew 0-0 with Maldives; the botched penalty by defender Samar Ishaq still haunting football fans in Pakistan to this day! But the good news was that this new look Pakistan side just needed the right tactics, coaching, and experience to really take 2011 games by the horns!

Pakistan Olympic Association

The more football the better, right? Tell that to the Pakistan Olympic Association!

The returning 31st National Games scheduled to take place this month in Peshawar, once again under POA authority, saw football again become unceremoniously scrapped to make way for hockey and (would you believe it) Wushu –  a sport not even recognised as Olympic-category by the IOC!

To exclude football from National Games, a more concise and manageable event compared to Asian Games!, by the POA is deplorable and unprofessional. The PFF and FPDC members strongly protest this step-child treatment of football by the POA.

PFF President Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat, himself a member of the AFC Disciplinary Committee, was right to call in a press conference at PFF Football House in Lahore expressing his anger and disappointment because of POA’s continuously cynical attitude towards the beautiful game in this country.

PFF were right to state in their press conference that football has actually become a bigger sport domestically over the last few years compared to Hockey and other sports considered in National Games! To deny Pakistani footballers the chance to compete in such events is nothing short of damaging for the continuous growth and popularity of football in Pakistan. In fact, football has become strongly competitive with cricket in terms of popularity given the rise of football and fall of cricket in this country!

PFF President was correct to state that there are over 60,000 registered football players in Pakistan and the number of unregistered players, according to a rough estimate is more than one million.

One Million football players in Pakistan and counting!! Does Hockey even have 1/10th of that number today?!

One wonders why POA and PFF have so much antagonism with each other this past year. Is it based on differing opinions about how football should be treated in this country? Is it based on personal and political grudges that should have no relation whatsoever with sport? Does POA still treats football as some ‘token’ sport like yesteryears?

One can only speculate what is going on behind the scenes, but both the POA and PFF must work things out to resolve differences and re-include football in the National Games before its too late. Otherwise, the only thing that will suffer in this rift will be football, and football alone!

Ali Ahsan is Chief Editor, Forum Administrator, and Pakistan Correspondent for FootballPakistan.Com. All the views expressed in this article are of the author’s own personal opinions.