The saga of Pakistan’s footballers [TNS]

The saga of Pakistan’s footballers [TNS]

by Alam Zeb Safi

Recently, I had a long discussion with a group of Pakistan football players and it was pretty evident that they were very disappointed. Some even said that they were considering starting some small business as according to them their future has been destroyed by a group of people with vested interests.

The players said that they had high dreams and they were very much on track to achieve those but the dispute shattered everything. They said that they were earning a lot while playing in international circuit but now it seems that their bread and butter has been snatched. They said how long they could tolerate such injustice. They demanded that the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif take notice of the issue and resolve it in a way is acceptable to the world football governing body (FIFA).

They said that there should be such a system in future in which Pakistan Football Federation’s (PFF) Congress should stay supreme and the provinces should also play a key role in football promotion. They also requested the courts to give time to the matter and resolve it as quickly as possible. They said that some of the departments had disbanded their teams and the dispute was forcing others to follow suit which would leave hundreds of players stranded.

No doubt, the worries of the players are natural. They are really passing through agony. The dispute has inflicted an unprecedented damage on their future. The wastage of two precious years not only ended the careers of those players who were in the twilight of their careers a couple of years ago but it has also deprived hundreds of youngsters from featuring in the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) age-group competitions.

Former Pakistan coaches Mohammad Shamlan of Bahrain and George Kottan of Austria often ask me about the issue and they are not happy with the way the football has been handled.

The other day a German football coach, who belongs to FC Union Berlin and was here to train a club in Karachi, asked me about Pakistan football. When I shared with him the details of the dispute, he was shocked. He said, “It is unfortunate. There is such a good talent here but what is this,” he questioned.

Very few nations around the world have the same problems in football which Pakistan is confronting. Now I come to the current situation. The matter lies with the Lahore High Court (LHC) as the Supreme Court has referred the case back to it with instructions to decide it within six weeks. The LHC’s double bench’s February 2, 2017, verdict has been set aside by the apex court. The LHC is yet to give its date for fresh hearing.

The LHC had dismissed the petitions of the FIFA-recognised PFF in its February 2 verdict and had asked PFF administrator Asad Munir, appointed by the same court, to hand over the control of PFF to the newly-elected PFF office-bearers within seven days of the receipt of the certified copy of the judgment.

When the administrator did not act in the specified time-frame as advised by the LHC on some legal grounds, the PFF filed an application in the same court regarding non-compliance of its order. The court replied that it had not said that the PFF’s control should be handed over to Faisal group but the court had said that it should be handed over to the newly-elected office-bearers of the PFF.

The issue was that the PFF’s elections had not been held as had been hinted by the court in its February 2 judgment. And that is why the administrator took time. In the meantime, Arshad Lodhi group filed an appeal in the apex court and requested it to hold the PFF elections. The group also requested that the administrator should work till elections are held. The apex court allowed the appeal of Arshad Lodhi group and in its second hearing on April 6 it set aside the LHC’s decision and referred the case to LHC with the advice to decide it within six weeks.

The apex court clarified that the PFF’s petitions were maintainable. There is still complication in the nature of the case as there is also an international law and ignoring it may lead to further trouble. If the court’s decision went against FIFA-recognised PFF, definitely fresh elections will be held and a new body of the PFF will be formed. It is clear that FIFA-recognised PFF will not participate in the elections and it will then be a real problem for the new body to get itself affiliated with FIFA. This may lead to sanctions from FIFA. I firmly believe that FIFA will always stand by its unit.

The question is whether sanctions will serve the purpose and clean the system? I don’t think so.

FIFA’s interest in the issue may resolve it. FIFA’s fact-finding mission came to Lahore in 2015, the year in which the dispute had emerged with the controversial elections of Punjab Football Association (PFA) in April.

After meeting with both the parties, the delegation submitted its report and FIFA’s executive committee in October gave two years to its affiliated PFF with the instructions to revise its constitution and hold the PFF elections afresh by September 2017. But nothing was done in that direction because of the legal issues. Besides, the PFF’s headquarters in Lahore was also in control of the rival group. And it is still in its possession. The PFF accounts have also been frozen.

It’s time FIFA sent its mission to Pakistan again and help resolve the matter in the best interests of the players who have done nothing wrong. It’s the players who are paying the price for the sins of others.

FIFA also knows the potential of Pakistan’s football as three million of its people are actively involved in the sport. I hope FIFA, which is the key financier of Pakistan’s football, will revisit the issue.

I hope 2017 will bring back smiles on the faces of footballers who have suffered huge losses during the last couple of years.

Pakistan not only missed several international events but also failed to hold its Premier League two times.

Before the expected visit of Brazilian mega star Ronaldinho to Pakistan in July, the matter should be resolved so that nation could welcome him with a big heart.

Published in The News on Sunday, 30 April 2017