When the ball stops rolling [Express Tribune]

When the ball stops rolling [Express Tribune]

by Natasha Raheel

Pakistan football is not a professional eco-system at all. There are club teams that are worse off as they do not have any sponsors and are self-run under a self-help model or the footballers have the departmental sides. With the football crisis that began heavily in 2015, the departments have been actively shutting down their football teams, and the latest victims have been K-Electric footballers.

Midfielder Muhammad Riaz, believes that it is high time for the officials to just consider the possibility of saving footballers from poverty and ultimate death of the sport in the country.

“It has been six months. KE has shut the department. I am in Hungu, I’m training everyday, but even for the other teams to hire us, there needs to be a domestic league. Even for us to try and go abroad, there needs to be some activity to show our talents here, or where would we go?”

“In KE we’ve had senior footballers above 35 too who have lost their jobs, who are suffering. We are all suffering more than before,” added the 24-year-old who played the Saff Cup in 2018 for Pakistan as his last outing with the team.

Footballers need to unite

Riaz’s KE and Pakistan team-mate Murtaza Hussain feels that there is a dire need for the players to raise their voices now or suffer forever. “Who is responsible for the loss of our livelihood? It has been six months. This political mess that started in 2015 has not stopped jeopardising our careers even once. Every single time there is more political power play from the fighting officials, we don’t know what to do except really unite to speak for ourselves.”

“I feel, because they don’t care for football, why would all of these parties sit together to save us, our sport,” he said. “Even now, my family members tell me that I shouldn’t play football and we are professional footballers. Imagine how bad it can be for new players, our youth players.”

“The opportunities for us to be hired by other teams now, like KE, is gone,” he added. “Now, for me to play in another team, there needs to be the Premier League, which needs to take place for me to find a place for myself, to get hired. Where should I go now? Where should other footballers go in this situation?” he asked, in anguish.

Murtaza too, like his other fellow footballers, worried about youth players the most. “Grassroots football will be worst hit, along with the top tier of players who want to play in the national team,” he said. “It is the players, the coaches and the referees who are the real stakeholders. All these other stakeholders need to sit down and find a way,” he appealed.

Paved with good intentions

With the PFF split into factions, each player in the political game claims to be the sport’s ‘true saviour’. But many questionable actions had to take place to keep the chaos going, which ultimately resulted grinding football to a halt in the country.

The drama that unfolded on March 27 was just the latest in a sequence of events that began in 2015, when then PFF President for over a decade, politician Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat tried to get himself elected for a fourth term. In order to achieve that goal, he tailored the PFF elections and brought changes into the PFF constitution. His opponents emerged under the leadership of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Football Association chief Syed Zahir Ali Shah and the PFF, subsequently, broke off into two factions. Then came a long legal and political battle that stopped footballing activities altogether. But the power tussle continued with vigour.

Pakistan was earlier suspended from October 2017 till March 2018 amid the infighting within PFF between the rival groups. As the struggle carried on, it relieved Hayat’s opponents were not too different in mindset from him. The opposing faction split further. As the Supreme Court ordered PFF elections in 2018, the perfect opportunity to ouse Hayat prompted the beginnings of a new storm. Fifa never recognised the SC-ordered elections and held Hayat’s back, until the appointment of the NC in September 2019 with Humza Khan as its helm.

Since then, the NC has also seen three changes in its leadership and Malik wants the PFF house to be vacated in order to further talk with quarrelling officials. Last week, Ashfaq Hussain’s group along with Hayat’s former trusted man and controversial figure Sardar Naveed Haider held a press conference in Lahore at the PFF house and revealed many a conspiracies among the NC officials through recordings recovered from the laptops that they confiscated during the takeover. A former Fifa official who had a falling out with Hayat is involved in the conspiracies too, only to show that the PFF corruption may just be the cornucopia of the rotten political games played at the Asian Football Confederation level as well as within Fifa.

Ashfaq Hussain’s group believes they need to stay in the PFF house rightfully and Fifa should change the NC while his tenure will end in 2022. He also feels the distrust because the PFF NC has failed to hold free and fair elections at all levels and there seems to be no plan in sight.

On the other hand, Malik attended the Fifa Congress on May 21 and maintains that the only way forward is for the group to hand over the charge to the PFF NC. He has a three-step plan to work towards holding elections and creating a football community that can sustain itself even after the interim set-up.

With the PFF house, the group also took over the charge of the funds and the accounts. When the NC was appointed, the federation had Rs160 million in the account with tranches of $500,000 and $700,000 from Fifa coming in over the course of that year.

On the standoff and the cessation of footballing activities, Malike said the answer is dependent on the NC. “When it comes to the future of PFF and Pakistani footballers, Fifa will keep Pakistan suspended till NC Chairman Haroon Malik advises it to. This is in their letter dated April 7,” he said. “Right now these people continue to occupy, and hence Pakistan is suspended. Government had noted that it will be vacated soon after Eid. No such efforts have been seen as yet.”

Published in The Express Tribune, 30 May 2021