Football returns to Pakistan next month with PFF Cup [Dawn]

KARACHI: After almost eight months of inaction, football is finally returning to Pakistan.

The court-appointed Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) administrator, retired Justice Asad Munir, on Tuesday announced to hold the PFF Cup with tentative dates set from January 15 to February 5 next year.

In-fighting in the PFF has seen no domestic football action in the country since the National Challenge Cup in April, although the holding of the PFF Cup might add to the long-running saga that has afflicted the game in the country.

With the PFF heading into its presidential elections in June, the country’s football governing body split into two factions after claims of incumbent president Faisal Saleh Hayat tampering with the constitution to keep himself in the power.

It led to the Lahore High Court (LHC) intervening and calling for a stay on the polls but the Hayat faction went ahead with the elections.

The court subsequently issued a contempt notice to Hayat while appointing Munir as an administrator until the issue is resolved.

And while world’s football governing body FIFA has tasked Hayat to correct the constitution and hold fresh polls within two years, the court has said any football activity in the country can only be carried out by Munir.

It might also bring FIFA versus the court and a subsequent ban but many believe that FIFA’s original decision of giving Hayat the mandate for two years after disputed elections has added to the conflict.

“FIFA should’ve taken a smarter decision,” Jerome Champagne, a presidential contender in the scandal-hit world football governing body’s February election, told Dawn in October.

Another presidential contender who was subsequently disqualified later, David Nakhid, told Dawn that FIFA should’ve “installed a normalisation committee”.

Nevertheless, the PFF administrator said in a news release: “This mega event would be a step in the right direction for the revival and promotion of football in the country.”

Munir has called up thirty departmental teams to participate in the event which will be held across Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

‘Fantastic step’

And while FIFA might show some reservations over the court-appointed administrator — which it doesn’t recognise and terms as third party/government interference — holding the event, coaches and officials of the country’s top teams welcomed the event as a “fantastic step”.

“This is something that Pakistan football needed at this point in time,” Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) manager Ayaz Butt, whose side won the Challenge Cup in April, told Dawn on Tuesday.

“It is a fantastic step by the administrator to hold the event since football has been losing out in the recent PFF tussle. We’re treating the tournament as the Challenge Cup and will participate with the aim of winning it.”

The PFF crisis has seen no Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) this season and the Hayat faction’s refusal to work with the administrator saw the national team miss out on participation in the SAFF Suzuki Cup which is underway in India.

“Huge appreciation for administrator as the tournament will bring football back on the grounds,” National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) head-coach Nasir Ismail told Dawn on Tuesday.

“The tournament will prevent many departments from closing down their football teams.”

PPFL champions K-Electric, meanwhile, will be eyeing the event as useful preparation ahead of their AFC Cup playoff against Bahrain’s Al-Hidd on February 9.

“We needed good practice ahead of the playoff,” said K-Electric head-coach Hasan Baloch, whose side are aiming to be the first team from the country to reach the group stage of continent’s second-tier club competition. “And the PFF Cup will be ideal for us.”

Published in Dawn, December 30th, 2015