The football imbroglio [TNS]

The football imbroglio [TNS]

by Alam Zeb Safi

During the last few days Pakistan’s football made international headlines and not for good reasons. After Ashfaq-led Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) rejected FIFA’s given deadline for vacating the PFF secretariat the ball is now in the court of the world football governing body which has already announced that Pakistan may be suspended.

In the next few days Pakistan’s membership may be suspended. If it happens Pakistan will face international isolation in football for the second time since 2017.

We will not be able to field our teams in international events. FIFA and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) will also stop funding Pakistan. The ban may be flexible or stiff. It depends on how FIFA reads the situation.

Blaming a single group for the situation will not be right. We, as media, football stakeholders, Normalisation Committees, Pakistan government, FIFA and the AFC are all responsible for the mess. We all made huge blunders, did not work on merit and so created such a tricky situation.

FIFA could not read the situation in the beginning. Had a neutral and fair person been brought in as the NC chairman by FIFA and AFC in September 2019 the matter could have been resolved and elections could have been held in time. FIFA should ask its own people how they monitored the situation and why their installed NC did not work in the right direction in the initial 14 months. During this period football fraternity got further divided.

The federal minister for IPC wrote to FIFA to send a fact-finding mission but the world body asked the ministry to submit evidence to substantiate its claims that the then NC had deviated from its mandate. What proofs? If a federal minister approaches you it means something bad is happening. Pakistan’s football politics is very dirty. Here people change their loyalties within no time for their ulterior motives.

Because of the mess created by NC under Humza, NC chairman Haroon Malik was under a lot of pressure. Haroon, a Canadian national, looked smart but failed to understand the situation. He should have unveiled the elections roadmap by the end of February. He should have realised that his NC would not be spared as pressure was mounting. People were clamouring that Haroon also was not interested in elections as he had started taking interests in events, foreign tours of Pakistan teams and matters of football development.

Things could have been controlled had Haroon understood the gravity of the situation. He could not and so we find ourselves again in deep quagmire. No one can defend Ashfaq group’s actions. It created a major deadlock. But I am surprised the IPC minister distanced its ministry from the occupation of the PFF headquarters. The minister should know that the PSB had recognised Ashfaq-led PFF. It was an opportune time for her to take the matter directly to the Prime Minister who is a sportsman and knows international sports laws. Although FIFA and AFC don’t tolerate government interference in its affiliated associations’ affairs, I would say that the PM has the capability to play a role in a personal capacity. Had there been a similar situation in cricket the whole state machinery would have got involved.

If the system is restored and stability comes football can emerge as the richest sport in Pakistan. FIFA and AFC are investing heavily and businesses, even from abroad, have started taking interest in Pakistan’s football. But it needs normalisation of the situation.

Media also played a negative role during the last 18 months. Even some of our media friends acted as spokespersons for some people. It’s not a good trend. We need to keep balance in our approach.

The current situation is that no NC can correct the system and hold elections in a transparent way unless all stakeholders create an atmosphere in which fair and transparent elections could be made possible.

In the past, PFF elections used to be held without any noise as there was not much money involved. Officials don’t realise how their actions are destroying our football, players and their families.

Several players were left jobless due to closure of departmental teams, leagues were not held, and international events were missed.

FIFA should realise that suspension is not the solution. You sent fact-finding missions in the past and you were highly respected. Again a dialogue with all the stakeholders from the world body can save Pakistan’s football future.

Our players are financially weak, our coaches are poor and football is the only source available to them to earn their bread and butter. They should be protected. These people are looking towards FIFA and AFC and these bodies should respect the sentiments of the major stakeholders who are players, coaches and referees.

Published in The News on Sunday, 4 April 2021