Football turmoil — sport the only victim [Express Tribune]

Football turmoil — sport the only victim [Express Tribune]

by Natasha Raheel

The only loser when politics gets involved in sport is the sport itself. As clichéd as this statement may sound, its relevance to the current state of football in Pakistan is uncanny.

Since the power struggle within the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) spread its roots 10 months ago, the country has altogether been deprived of the sport itself. All footballing activities have been postponed indefinitely, including the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL), while plans to hold the first ever women’s league in Pakistan have been scrapped altogether.

PPFL clubs, which rely on the league to maintain their finances and attract sponsors, started to suffocate, while the players were threatened with the likelihood of losing their jobs and their dream of playing professional football.

During all this turmoil, the PFF Cup came as a saviour for the sport. With the approval and backing of the Lahore High Court-appointed administrator Asad Munir, it gave some hope to the troubled footballing fraternity.

Many of the clubs were threatened by their respective provincial federations of dire consequences if they participated in the PFF Cup. But despite being ‘unofficially’ told that their licences would be revoked, the clubs chose to participate in the cup rather than just sit idly on the side — a bold move on their part.

With the PFF Cup, the football fraternity has made their voices heard; they have no interest whatsoever in what happens inside the headquarters as long as football is taking place outside of it.

FIFA’s apathetic role in the turmoil

The PFF Cup certainly gets the ball rolling, but it also raises question marks on the commitment of FIFA in promoting football around the globe, something it boasts in every brochure and marketing material.

The world football governing body prides itself in undertaking initiatives to develop the sport in third-world countries and while its motto ‘For the game. For the world’ has been crafted to perfection, its actions, especially in dealing with the scenario in Pakistan, prove otherwise.

Despite football coming to a standstill since April last year, FIFA has done nothing for its resumption and continues to back Faisal Saleh Hayat — the incumbent PFF president and one of the main perpetrators of the feud — despite repeated calls from the football fraternity asking for his removal.

To put matters into perspective, FIFA has even refused to recognise the PFF Cup — the first football event in 10 months — which highlights their inclination towards supporting Hayat rather than the development of the sport itself.

The 12-year ban on FIFA secretary Jerome Valcke also speaks volumes as most of the allegations levelled against him — ‘using FIFA funds to undertake personal trips around the globe’ and ‘adopting corrupt practices in the distribution of funds intended for the development of football’ — are very similar to the alleged charges against Hayat.

Regardless of what happens, the sport should not suffer and the only hope that remains lies with the new FIFA administration, which takes charge from February 26, to protect the clubs and the sport from the political war which has hampered the development of the sport in Pakistan.

Published in the Express Tribune, 16 February 2016