FIFA’s fact-finding mission to arrive in Pakistan at end of May [Dawn]

FIFA’s fact-finding mission to arrive in Pakistan at end of May [Dawn]

by Umaid Wasim

KARACHI: There seems no end to Pakistan football’s woes. The national team is running a serious risk of missing out on competitive football for the next four years with it emerging on Monday that FIFA’s fact-finding mission set to visit the country at the end of May.

The visit is to be the first step towards resolving the crisis in the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) but for Pakistan to feature in the first round of Asia’s marathon 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, it will require the mission to finalise a report of its finding and for its proposals to be implemented within six days.

Even then, it seems a tough ask to prepare a team. The first round of the joint World Cup-Asian Cup qualifiers featuring Asia’s lowest 12 teams kick off on June 6. The FIFA/AFC visit, meanwhile, will take place on May 28-29 in Lahore. FIFA didn’t announce the date of the visit, instead it was disclosed to the media by PFF vice-president Sardar Naveed Haider Khan who shared the text of an email sent to him by FIFA’s Member Associations governance services manager Alexandre Gros.

“Regarding the upcoming FIFA/AFC visit, kindly note that it will take place on May 28-29, 2019 in Lahore and visas for the delegation have already been arranged. When we have further information regarding the agenda we will be sure to inform you,” Gros tells Sardar in the email. Sardar had written to FIFA over the weekend, asking for updates regarding the FIFA mission’s visit after the global football body announced last week that it had deferred the mission’s visit in April to May. The earlier dates for its visit were April 24-25.

“The visit was initially scheduled for April 24-25 but, at the request of PFF’s President and General Secretary, it has been postponed to a later date in May,” FIFA had said then. The PFF officials FIFA is referring to are the ones it recognises: president Faisal Saleh Hayat and general secretary retired Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi. The PFF recognised in the country is the one led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah, who was elected in December last year following an election on the orders of the Supreme Court.

FIFA was asked on Monday regarding the mission and whether it had finalised the members of the mission since Gros’ letter says that visas had been arranged but it didn’t give much details. “Further updates will follow in due course,” the FIFA spokesperson told Dawn. FIFA decided on sending a mission to the country after a meeting of its Member Associations Committee on April 3.

Pakistan are set to learn their fate in the first round of World Cup/Asian Cup qualifiers on Wednesday. The AFC had confirmed to Dawn last month that Pakistan had sent its entry for the draw despite the PFF of Hayat withdrawing national teams from several tournaments. Last month, Pakistan went out of the race for the 2020 Olympics without kicking a ball after the Hayat faction withdrew the team from the qualifiers of the AFC Under-23 Champion­ships.

Dawn has reliably learnt that the lack of urgency by the Hayat faction in resolving the PFF issue is due to the fact that there is a feeling prevalent that even if the issue were to be resolved there will be very little time or finances to prepare the team for the all-important first qualifying round. Last time out, Pakistan fell to Yemen in the first qualifying round and went more than three years without playing a competitive match. Part of it was also due to the tussle over PFF’s control over the last four years.

The court-ordered PFF election was the first step towards resolving that crisis in the PFF but FIFA will make a final decision, having earlier called those polls that saw Ashfaq elected as the country’s football chief as “third-party interference”. In October last year, FIFA’s Member Associations committee had given the Hayat-led PFF an 18-month period — until March 2020 — to hold fresh elections.

After a controversial PFF election in June 2015, that sparked a dispute in the football body, Hayat was earlier given a two-year mandate in September 2015 to ratify the PFF statutes and hold fresh elections. The Hayat-led body made no headway into those issues. The PFF was banned for six months for “third-party intervention” before FIFA lifted the suspension in March last year after Hayat was restored as the PFF chief on the orders of the Lahore High Court, which had appointed an administrator to oversee PFF affairs in 2015.

The case went to the Supreme Court the very next month with the country’s apex court ordering fresh elections. Ahead of the SC-ordered election, FIFA had warned that the PFF faces possible suspension if the polls went ahead but then decided to send a mission due to what it termed “complex circumstances” surrounding the election.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2019