by Mohammad Yaqoob and Umaid Wasim
LAHORE: Discussion, debate and discourse on football in Pakistan took centre stage here on Monday, with more to come on Tuesday, as the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee welcomed the joint-delegation from global football body FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation amid voices of discontent emanating from two groups of stakeholders of the game in the country. From the PFF headquarters to the Lahore Press Club, all talk was about football and what is to come next.
Officials of FIFA and AFC joined PFF NC chairman Haroon Malik as the mobile unit shuttle service of the Pakistan Football Connect, the programme for registration of clubs — the first step in the holding long-due elections of the PFF, was launched at the headquarters of the country’s football governing body. The aim of the mobile unit, Haroon said, was to allow for the Connect Programme to reach clubs in far-flung areas of the country. Some 12 kilometres away at the press club, stakeholders dismissed it as another gimmick to delay the elections.
“It would take just four more weeks to complete the club registration and we have a mandate till June 2023,” Haroon told reporters, when asked whether the shuttle service would further delay the election process. He was the only one who spoke with Rolf Tanner, FIFA’s Head of Member Associations Governance, Purushottam Kattel, the Head of the South Asia Unit of the AFC’s Member Associations division and Andrei Vashkevich, FIFA’s Regional Office Development Coordinator from Dubai, attending the short ceremony to launch the shuttle service but not speaking to the media.
FIFA has already said there will be no media activity during the delegation’s visit, postponed from November due to unrest in the country. The three members of the delegation are due to attend a summit that is being organised by the PFF NC at a local hotel on Tuesday. Media was issued formal invitations for the event late on Monday night. FIFA did not respond to a query from Dawn till the filing of this report about whether the delegation members will be speaking during the summit which the PFF NC says will “contribute towards nation building through football”. The PFF NC said that media can attend the event as observers and there will be a briefing at the end of it.
Former PFF vice-president Zahir Ali Shah and Ashfaq Shah, the court-elected PFF president who was not recognised by FIFA, alleged at their news conferences that they are being kept out from the summit because the PFF NC wants to avoid them from meeting officials of FIFA and AFC. Zahir and Ashfaq were once allies who went their separate ways after the PFF NC was first appointed in September 2019. In March 2021, Ashfaq’s group seized control of the PFF headquarters from the NC, stating they had lost trust in the officials appointed by FIFA. It prompted a 15-year suspension on Pakistan from FIFA, which was eventually lifted in June last year.
Haroon stated that he had invited all stakeholders of football to the summit while reiterating that two legal cases pending at different courts were proving to be hurdles in holding the elections. When pressed whether the delegation was satisfied with the working of the PFF NC, he said that it would be known once the visit is completed. The delegation officials will be holding meetings with the officials of the PFF NC till Tuesday and Dawn has learnt that discussions will also be held on giving the Haroon-led committee the authority to make some amendments to the PFF Constitution.
Zahir took the first swipe at the PFF NC on Monday during his news conference where he said that the officials appointed by FIFA “were more interested in getting their salaries” instead of being focused towards holding the elections. “The whole election process can be completed within eight to nine months but this NC has taken two years and still we’re at the first step of club registrations and scrutiny,” he said. The Haroon-led NC is the second one appointed by FIFA after the initial one, with Humza Khan as chairman, was disbanded in December 2020.
“When FIFA first appointed the NC, we gave over charge to it in the hope that football will get back on track,” added Zahir, who was part of the PFF, led by Ashfaq, that came into power after Supreme Court held elections of the country’s football body in December 2018. “The summit that is being held tomorrow is an eye-wash with the PFF NC inviting government officials, players and referees who are aligned with them while the dissenting voices are being kept out.”
Minutes after the news conference by Zahir ended, the officials of the Ashfaq group took the stage and appealed to FIFA to give a final date for the holding of elections. “All we want are elections to be held as soon as possible,” Ashfaq told reporters, before adding that he had not misappropriated any funds during the time his officials had taken over the headquarters of the PFF. “There were Rs170.2million in the PFF accounts and when I left there were over Rs160million still there,” he added.
Ashfaq and his group were forced to vacate the PFF headquarters after the PFF NC had given assurances to the government that elections would be held within eight months after they returned to office. Officials present in the FIFA-AFC delegation — Tanner and Kattel — held a virtual meeting with Fehmida Mirza, the former Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination, before the PFF headquarters were handed back to the NC. “What about the promises the PFF NC made with the government?” questioned Ashfaq, as both he and Zahir vowed to gather football officials from across the country to hold protests if a date for elections isn’t announced soon.