By Umaid Wasim/Mir Shabbar Ali,
KARACHI: The Faisal Saleh Hayat-led faction of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) has continued its practice of pulling national teams out of international tournaments.
The latest withdrawal came from the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, the qualifiers of which are due to be held in April next year, in a move suggesting that the Hayat group understands that it faces an uphill battle against the Lahore High Court (LHC) which doesn’t recognise it as the country’s football governing body.
“We regret to note of your decision to withdraw from the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2018,” said a letter by Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) competitions director Shin Man Gil to the Hayat faction.
The letter, a copy of which was received by Dawn on Wednesday, adds that the reason for the withdrawal had been passed to the relevant AFC committees.
The Hayat faction was on Monday slapped with a fine of US$10,000 for withdrawing the national team from the AFC Solidarity Cup, a men’s tournament for Asia’s lowest-ranked countries initiated by the continent’s football governing body this year.
Surprisingly, though, the women’s wing chairperson of the Hayat faction Rubina Irfan wasn’t consulted before the withdrawal from the Women’s Asian Cup.
“Right now I’m out of touch with the matters since I’ve just suffered a huge personal tragedy,” she told Dawn on Wednesday, referring the demise of her daughter, the national team’s star forward Shahlyla Baloch in a road accident last month.
The PFF has been mired in crisis ever since it split into two factions in the lead-up to its presidential elections in June last year after a full-blown dispute over the controversial Punjab Football Association (PFA) elections in April.
With the two groups — one led by incumbent president Hayat and the other by contender and vice-president Zahir Ali Shah — heading into the polls, it saw the Lahore High Court (LHC) intervene and order a stay on the elections.
The Hayat group however went on to hold the elections and that has resulted in a drawn-out battle against the honourable court which appointed retired Justice Asad Munir as PFF Administrator till the issue is resolved and also asked him to hold fresh polls.
FIFA, meanwhile, backed Hayat in September last year and gave him two years to amend the PFF statutes and conduct fresh elections.
With Munir having control of the PFF accounts, he has shown a willingness to send the teams to international tournaments. The only problem is that he isn’t recognised by FIFA or AFC.
Pakistan missed last year’s SAFF Championships while the women’s team was pulled out of their version of the regional event which is going to be held later this month.
That has not gone down well with national team skipper Hajra Khan.
“The women’s team gets one international tour in two years and it’s a pity that the team will not be participating in it,” she told Dawn on Wednesday. “The team wasn’t even sent for the South Asian Games earlier this year.
“With a lot of young and promising talent, we would’ve come together for the first time and performed our hearts out after Shahlyla’s demise.”
Hajra added that she would do something to resolve the bleak situation faced by the game in the country.
In September, former Pakistan captain Mohammad Essa launched a players association to protect the rights of footballers in the country amid the turmoil in the PFF.
Their major demand was to ensure participation in the AFC Solidarity Cup but that fizzled out.
“We need patriots who would elevate the game and I’m personally going to make sure to work something out for my team in the near future,” Hajra said.
For Pakistan team coach Tariq Lutfi, the withdrawals are not helping the growth of the women’s game in the country.
“The federation should not commit to playing tournaments if they have to pull out later,” he told Dawn on Wednesday. “The girls should gather for training frequently but the lack of footballing activity has put almost a permanent stop to their development.”
Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2016