PFF NC chief critical of government’s role in resolving football crisis [Dawn]

PFF NC chief critical of government’s role in resolving football crisis [Dawn]

by Umaid Wasim

KARACHI: As FIFA’s patience wears thin with Pakistan, the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee appointed by the global football body in also getting impatient.

After having lauded the government and the Inter-Provincial Coordination ministry for playing a positive role in fostering dialogue to vacate the PFF headquarters — which was occupied by a group of officials led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah, who are not recognised by FIFA after assuming power following an election of the PFF held by the Supreme Court — the first sign of agitation with the process came on Tuesday.

“The government has condemned the hostile and illegal takeover, yet has fallen short of taking any concrete steps to get the FIFA House vacated,” PFF NC chairman Haroon Malik said in a media statement. “[The] Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Dr Fehmida Mirza had stated that she would get the FIFA House vacated but has been unable to do so to date.”

Ashfaq’s PFF took over control of the PFF headquarters near the end of March, having handed it over the PFF NC back in September 2019; the move ultimately resulting in Pakistan being suspended by FIFA.

A few weeks ago, Ashfaq’s PFF held a news conference in which they presented damning evidence of rampant manipulations and perversions in the working of the PFF NC, saying that it felt compelled to take over the charge of the PFF headquarters. Ashfaq’s group is adamant that it wants dialogue with FIFA,

Since then, FIFA has been tight-lipped on the PFF NC. It hasn’t commented on the findings of Ashfaq’s PFF or said anything in defence of the NC it appointed.

“Of course, dialogue takes time, especially with the mess that the PFF NC has created in the last 18 months,” Fehmida told Dawn in response to Haroon’s statement. “I have been doing my bit, having met Haroon and two other NC members [Shahid Khokhar and Haris Azmat] and have also spoken with the Prime Minister who has promised a detailed meeting.

“I am also looking to meet the Ashfaq group and see for myself the evidence that they have uncovered regarding the NC and after that, we will also be contacting FIFA regarding this.”

FIFA had initially appointed Humza Khan as the PFF NC chairman, who resigned in December last year and the evidence presented by Ashfaq’s PFF showed a plan was hatched by former committee members and officials to force his ouster.

Haroon was appointed in January and the PFF NC was revamped. However, a recording of current member Haris Azmat before his interview for the PFF NC raises several questions about the neutrality of the current setup.

FIFA gave Haroon unprecedented powers as NC chief and a mandate longer than the one it publicly stated of until June 30 this year, Dawn exclusively revealed in March.

Haroon told Dawn last week that he continues to enjoy the same kind of support from FIFA and it has been learnt through well-placed sources that his appointment came with strong backing from Mario Gallavotti, the Italian lawyer who is the director of FIFA’s independent committees.

But things aren’t the same as when Haroon was initially appointed.

Sources close to the matter have told Dawn that FIFA has held internal discussions on the situation in Pakistan, the country having presented it with unimaginable hurdles and forced it to seek legal advice locally as well. Haroon has been giving FIFA assurances that that the PFF headquarters will be vacated soon.

Nothing has happened, though. The writ FIFA has globally has faced its strongest challenge in Pakistan and while the country may not be world-beaters on the pitch, the deep-rooted political intrigue in the game here trumps anything found in the rest of the world.

“FIFA has clearly provided a mechanism for the lifting of this suspension — the people occupying FIFA House must vacate and hand over FIFA House to the FIFA-appointed Normalisation Commi­ttee for the Pakistan Football Federation — yet the occupiers have stated many times that they do not care if Pakistan continues to remain suspended and becomes an international pariah,” Haroon added. “Sports and sportsmen continue to suffer under a Prime Minister who is a sporting icon. At this time with Covid-19 rampant, sports are one avenue that can uplift people. Pakistan will not be able to participate in SAFF Cup or any other international matches and events, and the entire football community is in crisis.”

“Football clubs, referees, coaches and organisers acknowledge the importance of FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation have outright rejected this illegal occupation and have demanded from the government that the FIFA House be vacated at the earliest to resume football activities in the country.”

With Ashfaq’s PFF having last week announced an activity calendar which would see the resumption of tournaments from next month, Haroon was quick to warn that anyone associated with them would face disciplinary action.

“The PFF Constitution is very clear on the formation of a parallel body, and disciplinary actions for anyone associated with them including officials, clubs and players,” Haroon said.

Teams and players, having suffered so much over the last few years, are unlikely to hold back from participating in tournaments organised by the Ashfaq’s PFF.

Haroon himself acknowledges that the football community is suffering, and threatening them with disciplinary action is a sign of desperation. Or in fact, a sign that his influence is waning.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2021