Suspension looms large [The News]

Suspension looms large [The News]

by Alam Zeb Safi

Pakistan has brought itself very close to suspension by world football governing body (FIFA). If the Pakistan Football Federation’s (PFF) accounts and its headquarters in Lahore, constructed by FIFA, are not handed over to the FIFA-recognised PFF led by renowned politician Faisal Saleh Hayat by July 31, a tough decision may follow.

It would be appropriate to reproduce the email forwarded by FIFA to me a few days ago: “The situation of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) was discussed by the FIFA Member Associations Committee during its meeting on 4 July 2017. It was discussed that the potential extension of the deadline (from 30 September 2017 to 30 June 2019) to revise the PFF statutes and organise elections will be conditional on the strict implementation of an action plan and a regular reporting mechanism.

Furthermore, the Committee pointed out that, while court proceedings are still ongoing, the court appointed administrator continues to occupy the PFF offices and to control its accounts. Therefore, the Committee decided that if the PFF offices and access to the PFF accounts are not returned to the PFF leadership — led by Mr Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat — by 31 July 2017, it would recommend to the FIFA Council to suspend the PFF for contravening its obligations under articles 14 and 19 of the FIFA Statutes.”

This is a serious situation. Since April 2015 Pakistan has been a non-playing nation because of the conflict between the PFF and a rival group led by Arshad Lodhi, a former PFF Congress member and its former secretary.

Neither the government nor the conflicting bodies have ever thought about the future of the players who are suffering for the sins of others.

Around three million people associated with football have been hit directly by the conflict.

It has divided not only the players but also coaches as they support different groups involved in the episode.

In sports a nation cannot run without following international rules and regulations. In the past we have seen that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) supported its affiliated Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) when Pakistan government stood against the internationally-recognised NOC by forming a parallel NOC in 2013. The state had to backtrack following extreme pressure from the IOC.

We have another instance of Pakistan Judo Federation (PJF) and Pakistan Cycling Federation (PCF) which are working despite opposition from POA because they have the support of their respective International Federations (IFs).

What FIFA wants will ultimately happen and will have to be accepted. FIFA will have to ensure reforms as it was the ailing system of the PFF that created the problems.

Pakistan’s football system seemed dictatorial. When you run a system on the basis of merit, things go smoothly.

Some people say if PFF was suspended it would be a catastrophe for Pakistan football. I don’t agree with that. Our players have already been suffering. They are sitting idle. The doors of foreign leagues are already shut for them as no foreign club hires players who are sitting idle and are not featuring in international circuit or playing in their own league. There has been no football for the last 26 months in Pakistan. There has been no PFF.

It is correct that the PFF runs its office and its employees are getting salaries. Their officials have been attending FIFA and AFC meetings. Referees also go abroad. There is no break in that zone.

The PFF administrator, who is a former justice, has been receiving a decent salary since his appointment by the court in 2015. But I don’t think he has been contributing anything substantial for keeping football alive despite having the assistance of a few individuals who tout themselves as football saviours.

The situation is indeed very bad. FIFA can resolve the issue even without suspending Pakistan if it sends its delegation and meets Pakistan’s government, particularly the Prime Minister, who does not take interest in sports other than cricket and hockey of which he is the chief patron.

Another thing which is very interesting is that before FIFA suspends Pakistan, Lahore High Court may decide the matter. It is expected that from the start of September it will hear the case on day-to-day basis.

The LHC had released a verdict on February 2, 2017, regarding the dispute but it did not resolve the issue as the case went to Supreme Court and the apex court on April 6 set aside the decision of the LHC double bench and referred the case back to the bench with the instructions to decide it on merit. But due to courts’ vacations the case got delayed. The matter needs urgent attention as it has put at stake the careers of footballers. A source told me that PFF has requested the LHC bench for early hearing and the federation is waiting for the response.

Because of the issue Pakistan did not feature in several major international events during the last couple of years. Not only has the senior team faced a huge loss but age-group teams have also suffered. Two Premier Leagues were missed which were the key source of income of the players. I would appreciate the departments which have not disbanded their teams and have been paying their players. But how long would the departments do that?

Published in The News, 23 July 2017