As FIFA suspends Pakistan, Ashfaq seeks dialogue to resolve issue [Dawn]

As FIFA suspends Pakistan, Ashfaq seeks dialogue to resolve issue [Dawn]

by Umaid Wasim

KARACHI: Pakistan Football Federation’s inevitable suspension by FIFA was confirmed on Wednesday.

Yet, Ashfaq Hussain Shah — whose move to take over the PFF headquarters led to the ban — is still seeking dialogue with the world’s football governing body to resolve the issue.

“We are open to a dialogue with FIFA,” Ashfaq, who was elected president in a PFF election held by the Supreme Court in December 2018 which wasn’t recognised by FIFA, told Dawn. “We want them to listen to our grievances with the Normalisation Committee it appointed in Pakistan and find a way to resolve this matter.”

FIFA suspended Pakistan after a group of officials led by Ashfaq took over the PFF headquarters from the Normalisation Committee led by Haroon Malik last month and refused to hand it back despite an ultimatum given by the global football body.

FIFA had appointed the Normalisation Committee to run PFF affairs in September 2019 following years of infighting among groups of football officials in the country.

It was initially led by Humza Khan, who resigned as chairman in December last year before being replaced by Haroon in January.

FIFA said in Wednesday’s statement that its decision to suspend the PFF was prompted by the “hostile takeover” which constituted a serious violation of its statutes.

“FIFA issued a letter warning that, should the illegitimate occupation of the PFF headquarters not be lifted and the office bearers recognised by FIFA not be permitted free access to the building to carry out their mandate, the matter would be immediately submitted to the Bureau of the Council for decision,” FIFA said.

“As the situation remains unchanged, the Bureau of the Council has decided to suspend the PFF. PFF representative and club teams are therefore no longer entitled to take part in international competitions until the suspension is lifted.

“This suspension will only be lifted once FIFA has received confirmation from the Normalisation Comm­ittee of the PFF that the PFFs premises, accounts, administration and communication channels are again under its full control and it can continue to carry out its mandate without further hindrance.”

Ashfaq on Wednesday claimed that the issue was more about FIFA’s “unwillingness to listen to the genuine stakeholders of Pakistan football”.

“We have written to FIFA about eight times since we handed charge of the PFF headquarters to Normalisation Committee yet we haven’t received a single reply,” he claimed.

“FIFA should look at what the Normalisation Committee has done in the last 18 months and there should be accountability since there has been nothing done regarding the PFF elections, which is the main mandate of the Normalisation Committee.”

Haroon, who had announced that the NC would give the election roadmap this month, was still hopeful that the ban would soon be lifted.

“I’m very hopeful and am working with FIFA to ensure that the suspension wouldn’t last too long,” he told Dawn, although there wasn’t immediate clarity on what the status of the NC would be during the suspension.

FIFA appointed the PFF NC almost four years after a controversial election of the PFF had thrown Pakistan football into turmoil. During that time, Pakistan was also suspended for a six-month period from October 2017 to March 2018 for a court-appointed administrator taking over the PFF headquarters from then president Faisal Saleh Hayat.

The suspension by FIFA adds to the long-running crisis that has afflicted Pakistan football since Hayat, who was PFF president since 2003, held a controversial election in 2015.

The PFF had split into two factions following those elections — one led by Hayat and the other by senior vice-president Zahir Ali Shah — and two years later, FIFA banned Pakistan when the Lahore High Court had appointed an administrator to run PFF affairs.

Even though Hayat was reinstated as president, the Supreme Court had ordered that fresh elections of the PFF were to be conducted after the election of the Punjab Football Association (PFA), which had been the cause of the split in the PFF.

With his candidate Sardar Naveed Haider Khan winning the PFA poll conducted by the Supreme Court, Hayat had no issues over that result but there was fresh drama in the PFF elections.

In the lead-up to the election, Sardar deserted Hayat to join forces with Zahir and that saw Ashfaq elected as the PFF chief. Hayat, however, refused to accept the Supreme Court election, claiming it was interference in the affairs of the PFF.

It prompted FIFA to appoint the NC, after which Zahir and Ashfaq, backed by Sardar and Amir Dogar, also went their separate ways meaning there are now three groups vying for control of the PFF.

Hayat was present in the Executive Committee meeting of the Asian Football Confederation in Bahrain on Wednesday where FIFA president Gianni Infantino was also in attendance.

The AFC also took note of FIFA’s decision to suspend the PFF and well-placed sources told Dawn that “Hayat wasn’t too pleased with the way the PFF issue was handled as he claimed that he wasn’t consulted despite being a key stakeholder.”

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2021