Comment : The players need to fight for their right, or there won’t be much left [Express Tribune]

Comment : The players need to fight for their right, or there won’t be much left [Express Tribune]

By Natasha Raheel,

KARACHI: Reporting on football in Pakistan can be quite embarrassing, especially when the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) is mostly busy in controversial elections while players who should be the spine of the sport continue to remain eerily silent on the issue.

So far the PFF has been at the centre of the controversy that is nothing more than politics and a bitter power struggle. The federation is run by a political figure rather than someone with a footballing background. The rival group, too, is backed by a political party rather than being made up of people from footballing backgrounds.

There have been allegations from certain PFF officials that Hayat has bent the rules in order to stay in power and get marketing director Sardar Naveed Haider elected as the Punjab president. However, the stance that the official federation has maintained and communicated to the Asian Football Federation and FIFA is that its support lies with Hayat.

The rival group — led by Arshad Lodhi and Farasat Ali Shah, the election secretary for PFF at the time of the Punjab elections — held an ‘Extra-Ordinary Congress’ to oust Hayat, claiming the support of at least 20 of the 26 voting members, and taking over the PFF by force.

Since April, Pakistan football has been reduced to court orders and legal battles. Hayat’s opponents moved the Lahore High Court (LHC) and the incumbent president, being too stubborn to step down after serving for 12 years, held elections despite the LHC’s order to stop the PFF elections; claiming that they had not yet received any such order in writing.

Hayat was elected for office for another four years for a term that was supposed to start from September.

Both factions, too busy to claim their right to the federation, ignored football and instead focused on the legal battle.

But that is hardly surprising, considering the lack of footballing background of both parties. The players, however, have also been disturbingly quiet.

The football team has never had a players’ association and continue to yield very little power or say. Even now, when their entire careers have been thrown into doubt, with both domestic and international events jeopardised, they continue to refrain from commenting on the situation, fearing a backlash.

The U16 and U19 teams are also bearing the brunt of the fracas as they have been forced to pull out of the South Asian Football Federation (Saff) and Asian Football Confederation events this year.

Pakistan’s youngsters had claimed the Saff event in 2011 and would have gone into the tournament confident of claiming it yet again. But that is not the only tournament they miss as the U16 and U19 sides will not compete in the AFC U16 championship qualifiers.

The annual domestic league, the Pakistan Premier Football League, will also not take place this year in all likelihood, while PFF accounts have been frozen by the FIA.

The players do not earn much as it is and they fear a backlash that may prevent them for featuring for their departmental sides as well if they speak out against either or both parties. However, they need to understand that it is high time that they stood up and voiced their issues.

A players’ association can be a good beginning for player empowerment. Although the footballers, unlike hockey and cricket players, don’t have big achievements to their credit, they still have the right to ask certain questions. Questions such as the place of politics and political figures in a footballing establishment.

FIFA has claimed it will be sending a team to Pakistan soon in order to investigate into the matter but there are deep-seated problems that need to be addressed. Influential figures continue to hog the seats in the federation’s upper echelons while professionals who have an understanding of the game are sidelined.

The FIFA team then will only be trying to choose the lesser of two evils. Football and its players deserve better.