by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: The longstanding wish of Minister for Inter-provincial Coordination Dr Fehmida Mirza was granted on Wednesday, fuelling hopes that the long-drawn issue surrounding the Pakistan Football Federation is close to being resolved.
Ever since the FIFA-appointed Normalisation Committee for the PFF was forced out of Lahore headquarters of the country’s football governing body, Dr Fehmida was hoping for direct talks with officials of the global football body.
Just past midnight on Wednesday, the IPC ministry shared videos on its official Twitter account of Dr Fehmida attending a virtual meeting with officials of FIFA’s and Asian Football Confederation’s Member Associations division.
The meeting came almost six months after the government decided to side with the Normalisation Committee in its battle to regain control of the PFF headquarters from the clutches of the court-elected PFF of Ashfaq Hussain Shah and lift FIFA’s suspension on Pakistan.
Ashfaq and his officials, who came into power through a PFF election held by the Supreme Court in December 2018 which wasn’t recognised by FIFA, had taken over the headquarters in March last year citing laxity on part of the NC to fulfill its mandate of holding PFF elections after it was appointed in September 2019.
However, they were forced to vacate the PFF headquarters in November with the property being taken over by Lahore’s Deputy Commissioner and subsequently the lease agreement the PFF had with the Punjab government for it was cancelled. The PFF had rented a portion of its offices, which was in violation of the lease agreement.
That opened a new issue despite the government having pledged full support with the NC and holding a news conference in Islamabad in the first week of February where Dr. Fehmida said the PFF headquarters will be handed over the Haroon Malik-led committee within two weeks.
More than a month has passed since with talks between the NC and Punjab Revenue Board yielding little result but there is growing optimism of a deal being struck by the end of this week.
FIFA has said that the ban on Pakistan will only be lifted once its appointed officials are back in office to complete their task of holding elections of the PFF, which has been mired in conflict and crisis since 2015. Dr Fehmida was hopeful of that happening soon.
“We had a positive meeting with FIFA and AFC and we apprised them of the situation and that the NC will soon get the PFF headquarters,” she told Dawn on Thursday. “We have told them that the government will fully back the NC in the process of holding fresh elections of the PFF to end this crisis once and for all.”
The NC has given the government an eight-month roadmap to hold the elections once it is back in office. The government will have oversight over the inflow of FIFA and AFC funding while it will establish a regulatory framework with the NC.
FIFA generally wants its member associations to work independently without any interference from governments or courts but Wednesday’s meeting is a sign that it is willing to work with the government in Pakistan to resolve the PFF issue.
“The government wants football to flourish in Pakistan, FIFA wants to do the same,” Dr. Fehmida said. “The goal is the same.”
PFF NC member Shahid Khokar informed that the PFF would receive a hefty funding through FIFA’s Forward Programme for football development once the issue is resolved.
A huge chunk of funding through the Forward Programme is still on hold for the PFF due to its long-running crisis.
“We are hopeful and things are headed in the right direction,” Khokhar told Dawn on Thursday. “The meeting was to reaffirm our stance as the NC that we are keen to put football back on track in the country.”