by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: Is it not ironic to have a former sportsman as the Prime Minister of a country but still the country’s football federation receives suspension from Fifa, despite football being the sport of the people, the sport that has been most diverse in its way with the Pakistanis.
Pakistan women’s football team captain Hajra Khan has urged former cricketer and now PM Imran Khan and the President of Pakistan Dr Arif Alvi to intervene and convince a group of former Pakistan Football Federation(PFF) officials to leave the headquarters that they took over on March 27, which prompted Fifa to suspend Pakistan’s membership on Wednesday.
“Football has been ridiculed in Pakistan and this is the second ban. I just want to request the PM to take notice of this. He is also a sports icon and sports should be a priority during his tenure,” Hajra told The Express Tribune on Wednesday after Fifa announced that Pakistan is now suspended from competing in the international events that will not only hurt the footballers but also endanger the livelihood of many.
“Imran Khan has been a sports icon and I feel there should be some priority given to sports now. We don’t expect much as Pakistani women, we expect the state to provide safety for us, education, the basics, and now this, our right to play. I just want to say that this is our last hope and the PM should take notice of this. He can intervene and things can improve.”
Hajra also put up her reaction to the ban on her social media platforms, and while talking to The Express Tribune she said that she feels that she has the burden of responsibility for the rest of the footballers too, who cannot voice their opinions.
“FIFA suspends Pakistan Football Federation after “recent hostile takeover of the PFF head office in Pakistan.” Players have all been affected roughly. Football as a sport has been ridiculed over time in Pakistan. Who’s answerable?” tweeted Hajra.
The key player for Pakistan as she has been, Hajra, was also competing at the 2021 National Women’s Championship which was cancelled after the ‘hostile takeover’ of the PFF headquarters on March 27.
She was one of the key athletes to speak up and chose not to continue participating in the championship that was later being organised by the group that occupied PFF headquarters after kicking out the Fifa appointed Normalisation Committee.
“There are still women footballers who can’t speak up and I feel I have the duty to speak up for them too. There are lots of footballers who earn their bread and butter through football but this ban will result in the death of football. Footballers have won Pakistan accolades, we have done well internationally too, and this is our last hope,” said the Guinness world record holder.
This is the second time Pakistan have been banned in the last five years. Hajra along with other footballers too saw the worst of the time, seeing their time going to waste as there were no football activities, but managed to go abroad and participate in trials for different clubs. She also participated in the world record matches to draw attention to other causes.
This year the PFF NC announced Pakistan’s participation in the South Asian Football Federation Championship as well as Asian Football Confederation Women’s Asian Cup.
The last time Pakistan women’s team competed in an international event with the national team was 2014, which was the SAFF Women’s Championship in Islamabad.
Fifa suspended Pakistan for ‘third party interference’ as the group led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah took over the PFF offices in Lahore from the Fifa-appointed Normalisation Committee, headed by Haroon Malik.
The takeover was forceful and Fifa labelled it as ‘hostile’ and that alone has left Pakistan in a precarious situation. There is surety when the suspension will be over, because Shah’s group demands talk with Fifa, and they do not trust the NC, which was appointed in September 2019.
Shah was elected as the PFF President through the Supreme Court-ordered elections in December 2018 and he believes he is a rightful stakeholder and has the legitimate mandate, however, Fifa does not recognise him or his congress.
Shah and his congress believe that the NC was to hold fair and fresh elections on every PFF level, which it failed to do, so there is a lack of trust on NC. The NC have seen the change in its leadership thrice as well.
Fifa have demanded the occupants (Shah and co) to leave PFF headquarters along with the control over funds and administration to Haroon-led NC for the suspension to end and Pakistan to enjoy a full Fifa membership again, which includes the footballers and football community to participate in the international events and activities again.
“The Bureau of the Council further decided that the suspension of the PFF will only be lifted when… A confirmation is received by FIFA from the PFF normalisation committee led by Haroon Malik that the PFF’s premises, accounts, administration and communication channels are again under its full control.”