by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: Football in Pakistan needs saving from the very people whose job it is to serve it, with the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) seemingly hell bent on destroying the beautiful sport.
In other words, the PFF needs to be freed from the clutches of the politicians who seem to have assumed it to be their personal property.
Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat has been the PFF President since 2003 and while he might have great relations with FIFA and Asian Football Confederation officials, the truth is that football as a whole has suffered terribly in the past 15 years. The federation re-elections that were ordered in April by the Supreme Court have still not taken place.
Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah became the PFF’s patron-in-chief back in 1948 but the quality of men running the federation has decreased decidedly over the years. Now we languish in 201th place in the FIFA rankings; our lowest-ever ranking in history.
Our U15 girls recently lost 14-0 to Bangladesh in their opening match of the South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Championship in Bhutan.
This could have been a huge step towards empowering the girls and inspiring the youth to take up football as a sport. Instead, such humiliating drubbings will only serve to disenchant people. The team was given just a few weeks to prepare and was hastily selected after a haphazard U15 national championship. They were then thrown into the deep end.
Football in the country seems to hinge on the whims of Hayat and his administration, with national championships and participation in international tournaments both depending on their moods.
The national team that left for the Asian Games was announced only after the players had left for Jakarta. Without proper training and preparation, they are little more than lambs to the slaughter. The players are sidelined if they ever speak to the press or criticise the federation, which seems to have no accountability for its actions.
The PFF recently sent the team to Bahrain, the country that is paying the salary of Pakistan’s Brazilian coach Jose Antonio Nogueira.
The federation has had no qualms about dropping former skipper and talisman Kaleemullah for criticising them, with an excuse made about his lack of fitness despite him recently signing for Turkish club Izmirspor.
Footballers don’t have central contracts and the PFF does little to look out for its own players. The national team currently in Indonesia for the Asian Games do not have a trained physio with them, showing how much the players’ well-being matters to the federation. Even more confounding is their decision to instead send a masseuse with the side.
Talented footballers have had their careers come to an end after consulting local quacks and turning to alternative medicine in their bid to get over injuries due to a lack of funds and information.
Muhammad Tauseef was one such unfortunate example, with the former Pakistan international passing away last year. Despite asking the PFF for treatment, he was forced out of the team and completely discarded. In his desperation, he turned to alternate medicine that proved fatal.
The congress that chose Hayat for his fourth term as PFF president is filled with people who have little to do with football.
Like the players, journalists too are actively discouraged to speak against the federation. Those who do are blocked out, with the federation strictly telling players and officials to not speak to them. If that doesn’t work, then active threats are also used.
The PFF constitution too has been changed to suit Hayat’s needs, with even FIFA pointing to irregularities within the statutes.
The federation has just been restored by the world governing body after being banned for several years. A ban that could have been avoided had politicians not considered the PFF to be their personal property.
Few Pakistanis, if any, will count themselves as a fan of the country’s football team and with good reason. The team has been unable to capture the country’s attention, let alone its imagination.
The players though are not to blame for this.
What else is to be expected when no football has taken place in the country for over three years. The last time Pakistan won a match at the Asian Games was in the 1970s; decades before any player in the current side was even born.
Football in the country has become a joke; a source of both anger and rueful comedy. It is time to change that.