The second mission [TNS]

The second mission [TNS]

by Alam Zeb Safi

The next month is very important for Pakistan football which has been passing through the most turbulent phase of its history. Currently the situation is that FIFA still recognises Faisal Saleh Hayat as the chief of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF). On the other hand as a result of the Supreme Court-ordered elections a new PFF has been formed which is being headed by Syed Ashfaq Hussain Shah of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Faisal’s PFF has no control over the headquarters and the accounts. Abiding by the Supreme Court decision, it cannot send teams abroad.

On the other hand, Ashfaq’s PFF has the means and the headquarters but it cannot send the teams abroad for international events because it is not recognised by FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

Pakistan recently missed the Olympic qualifiers because of this mess. It was a huge loss to the country. A nation and its players wait for such a big event for four years. It’s a huge injustice with those youngsters who were going to feature in the prestigious event.

Pakistan had withdrawn its entry after the FIFA-recognised PFF learnt that it was not capable to field the team. A huge amount had been spent by the PFF on preparing the team for this event during seven to eight months struggle last year by giving the players persistent international exposure. But that investment was wasted when Pakistan’s entry was withdrawn.

Olympic qualifiers is not the only case. Pakistan, because of the issue, also had to miss SAFF Championship 2015 and the 2016 South Asian Games football event. Both were hosted by India.

Now the actual position is that the Supreme Court, after hearing review appeals of Faisal Saleh Hayat and others, disposed of the matter on March 13, allowing the applicants to avail themselves of the remedy available to them before the appropriate forum.

“Having heard learned counsel for the applicants, it seems that they have some grievance after the elections have been conducted and new management of PFF has been inducted. If they have such grievance, obviously, the law must have provided remedy to them,” the Supreme Court March 13 order says.

“The learned counsel for the applicants states that they may be allowed to avail the remedy available to them before the appropriate forum. In this view of the matter these applications are disposed of. The applicants may avail the remedy, if available to them, before the appropriate forum in accordance with law,” says the order of the three-member bench.

The court order has been forwarded by the Faisal-led PFF to FIFA. Pakistan football’s status will come under discussion when FIFA Member Associations Committee meets on April 3. This has been confirmed by FIFA.

“We can confirm that the FIFA Member Associations Committee meeting is scheduled for 3 April, 2019, and the situation of the PFF will be on the agenda,” a FIFA spokesperson told me a few days ago.

According to sources, a few days ago Faisal’s PFF recommended to FIFA to send its fact-finding mission to Pakistan to assess the situation. And it is highly likely that a joint team of the FIFA and the AFC will soon visit Pakistan to assess the ground reality.

A FIFA official confirmed this through an email to the vice-president of the newly-elected PFF Naveed Haider. “We acknowledge receipt of your below message requesting a meeting with the FIFA Secretary General. Please kindly be informed that it is the intention of FIFA to send a joint FIFA/AFC delegation to Pakistan shortly to assess the situation of the PFF in view of the developments that have occurred over the last months. On that occasion, the delegation will meet with all relevant stakeholders and listen to their views. Consequently, we deem that the mission will be the right platform for engagement,” Luca Nicola, Head of Member Associations Governance Services Secretary General Division, wrote to Naveed the other day.

If it happens it really will help Pakistan move towards some sort of resolution of the dispute. It will be the second time in around four years that FIFA will send a fact-finding mission to Pakistan.

In August 2015, FIFA sent a delegation to Lahore which met with both the groups. That delegation was headed by member of FIFA Associations Committee and Cyprus FA President Costas Koutsokoumnis.

On the recommendations of that mission, FIFA gave Faisal’s PFF two years until September 2017 with the instructions to revise its constitution and hold fresh elections.

When the PFF could not act as advised by FIFA, the world body in October 2018 extended the PFF mandate until March 2020.

FIFA had, in October 2017, suspended Pakistan because of third party interference. However, the suspension was lifted in March 2018, days after Lahore High Court (LHC) restored the PFF.

This time FIFA mission will have to reach the most suitable solution to the long-standing dispute that has rocked the country’s football at a time when FIFA and AFC have been generous in backing their member associations in terms of financial assistance. It is premature to predict which party will be the beneficiary, but I firmly believe that the world body will take a sagacious decision for the resolution of the dispute.

Around three million people are directly involved in Pakistan’s football. Various departments have hired national players on decent salaries which help their families.

Hats off to those departments which did not disband their football teams despite uncertainty during the last few years. The dispute has been defaming Pakistan but those involved don’t care as they always have been seen fighting for their seats instead of taking care of the sport and innocent footballers.

A collective effort is required for developing the sport. We can produce global stars but we should give our new generation such an environment where their talent could be honed properly.

FIFA is set to expand World Cup from 32 to 48 teams, which will create opportunities for more nations to press for World Cup squad. If we correct our house, we can become part of the World Cup in a few years.

Published in The News on Sunday, 31 March 2019