Pakistan can no longer afford to play it SAFF [Tribune]

Pakistan can no longer afford to play it SAFF [Tribune]

by Natasha Raheel [Express Tribune]

If recent events concerning the country’s football are considered, it may well be wiser for Pakistan to not even participate in this year’s South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship.

Pakistan have missed three regional events already — the South Asian U16 Championship, the U16 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Championship qualifiers and the U19 AFC event — so it won’t make much of a difference to miss a senior team event too.

The players have spent the majority of the year trying to dodge questions regarding which of the two rival Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) factions they stand behind, rather than competing in domestic tournaments. Considering their lack of match practice and poor fitness levels, it may be wiser to avoid humiliation in the championship and further reduce the almost rock-bottom morale.

If the federation wants someone to point fingers at for hindering the growth of football in the country, then it may well be out of luck as it has no one but itself to blame. FIFA, the international governing body, is going through a crisis as well — with president Sepp Blatter under criminal investigation — but football continues internationally despite the mess FIFA finds itself in. In Pakistan, the federation had failed to realise that the show must go on.

FIFA has now ended the seemingly never-ending saga by reinstating Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat as the PFF president for two more years.

They took Hayat as the trustee mainly because his opponents could not prove their claim in front of FIFA’s three-member mission that visited Lahore earlier this year.

But the FIFA letter issued to PFF last week is ambiguous and contradictory in many ways. It seems their message to a small and almost negligible footballing national such as Pakistan is simple: deal with your own mess, we have bigger fish to fry.

The letter trusts Hayat with holding elections in two years’ time, without addressing any of the problems that started the quibbling among the PFF officials in the first place.

Hayat also knows he is not in the clear by simply getting FIFA’s backing. He still has to appear in front of the Lahore High Court (LHC) that declared his PFF elections in Changla Gali invalid, while he also faces contempt of court charges by holding elections despite the court’s stay order.

The FIFA letter very graciously gave time to Hayat to ‘make amends’, whatever that may mean, without mentioning anything about the controversial elections.

According to the letter, the PFF needs to make changes in its judicial bodies, including the disciplinary committee, which also plays a part in keeping the federation’s affairs transparent.

The question that burns then is that if the judicial bodies in PFF were not independent — as FIFA has implied — then the elections held on June 30 were not transparent either, and is FIFA’s willingness to overlook the issue of transparency a tacit admission of their own shortcomings in implementing standardised regulations across the board among its member associations?

FIFA’s decision can be a good example of studying how the international body works. While there is strong local opposition to Hayat, the PFF is just a small part of a bigger problem. The court battle is still to be won. For now, none of the corruption and fund embezzlement allegations against Hayat have been proven or disproven. The next PFF hearing at LHC will take place on October 9. The case is expected to drag on for months to come.

According to the LHC-appointed administrator, Asad Munir, the audit of the PFF funds is not yet finished; but there have not been any clear signs of wrongdoings either.

However, even Munir, who is a retired judge and holds a neutral view of the situation, feels that in the short month-and-a-half period that he has been in charge of the PFF, he has seen the game of football suffer.

In the backdrop of all this, sending a distracted and under-prepared team to the SAFF Championship will only lead to disaster, especially considering Pakistan have finished bottom of the eight-team tournament every single time.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th, 2015.