by Umaid Wasim
DOHA: When the vote for upholding Pakistan’s suspension until certain requirements are fulfilled came up at the FIFA Congress on Thursday, a Palestinian Football Association delegate sitting on the next to the table that seated members of the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee asked if a ‘No’ would help.
That was one of the four ‘No’ replies for Pakistan with 195 members voting in favour of the global football body’s all-powerful Council lifting the suspension once the “pertinent requirements” are fulfilled, which means not only regaining control of the PFF headquarters — which the NC already has — but also the accounts and other assets.
“We’re taking steps towards trying to restore Pakistan’s membership in FIFA and AFC,” NC members Haris Azmat and Shahid Khokhar told Dawn after the Congress meeting ended here at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre. “Once the accounts are handed over by the Bank of Punjab to us, the ban will be lifted.”
Pakistan was suspended by FIFA’s all-powerful Council in April last year after the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee was thrown out of office by a group of officials led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah, who was elected as president in an election of the PFF held by the Supreme Court in December 2018.
That election was not accepted by FIFA, which appointed the NC in September 2019 to hold fresh elections of the PFF and saw an end to Faisal Saleh Hayat’s 16-year tenure as the PFF president recognised by the global football body.
Ashfaq and his group of officials were described as “protestors” by FIFA at the Congress on Thursday ahead of the vote.
Last month, the PFF NC was handed back control of the headquarters in Lahore after the government decided to unconditionally back it in an attempt to lift the suspension on Pakistan.
But the accounts remain an issue. Following the takeover of the PFF headquarters, the NC had filed a suit and obtained a stay order to prevent Ashfag’s group from accessing the accounts.
It is not known, though, who has the assets. The PFF headquarters were taken over by the Punjab government, which evicted Ashfaq’s group from office, in November after an issue with the lease agreement of the facility.
Intervention from the government saw the lease issue resolved but Pakistan remains suspended for now.
Despite that, the Haroon Malik-led NC is in Qatar for the Congress as well as Friday’s draw for the World Cup, which begins in November in the gulf state. Its position is similar to the Russian Football Union, which isn’t banned by FIFA but its national teams have been stopped from playing due to the war in Ukraine.
“If it isn’t about inclusion, about bringing people together and inviting dialogue, there is no point in having a Congress,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said at a news conference, defending the decision to have RFU members attend the Congress.
PFF NC members have held dialogue and discussions with officials of the Asian Football Confederation since arriving in Doha on Wednesday. They are due to meet FIFA representatives over the next few days.
QATAR COMES UNDER CRITICISM
Also at the first in-person Congress since 2019, Qatar’s human rights record came under sharp criticism in a stunning speech by Norwegian Football Federation president Lisa Klaveness — the first woman head of the Norway’s football body.
“The Qatar World Cup was awarded in unacceptable ways with unacceptable consequences,” she told the audience, referring to the controversial vote of 2010 which saw Qatar awarded the right to host the World Cup.
“Human rights, equality, democracy, the core interests of football, were not in the starting 11 until many years later. These basic rights were pressured on as substitutes, mainly by outside voices. FIFA has later addressed these issues, but there is still a long way to go.”
It prompted a strong rebuke from Hassan Al Thwadi, the general secretary of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, who touched on the improvements made by Qatar in improving the labour system since being awarded the World Cup.
At the news conference, Infantino said that FIFA had now changed the procedure to decide World Cup hosting which now sees all member associations of FIFA voting to select the host rather than a few members of FIFA’s former executive committee who used to vote.
Infantino closed the Congress by saying he intends to stand for re-election as FIFA president at the next meeting of FIFA’s member associations. The World Cup in Qatar will be his second as president.
During his time, the World Cup has undergone an expansion, with the 2026 tournament in the United States, Canada and Mexico to see 48 teams competing instead of the 32 who will feature in Qatar. However, he stepped back from plans for holding the World Cups every two years.
“Let me be very clear that FIFA has not proposed a biennial process,” Infantino said at the Congress. “The last FIFA congress passed to the administration a vote, with 88 percent voted in favour, to study the feasibility of the World Cup every two years.
“FIFA administration, under the leadership of [legendary Arsenal manager] Arsene Wenger, then started a feasibility… FIFA did not propose it. It concluded that it is feasible, that it would have some repercussions and impacts.”
Infantino added that further consultations will take place regarding those plans. But for now, he hoped the upcoming World Cup will be the “best ever”.