By Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: Pakistan will face India in their opening game of the SAFF Suzuki Cup later this year but the fate of the national team remains hanging in the balance due to the crisis in the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF).
The PFF has split into two factions after claims of incompetence and corruption in the lead-up to its presidential polls which were scheduled for June 30 and now awaits a FIFA decision into the matter.
World’s football governing body FIFA will discuss the Pakistan issue in its Associations Committee meeting on Sept 21 and it will only be after a final decision is reached that preparations for South Asia’s marquee football event will take place.
Pakistan will face arch-rivals India in their Group ‘A’ opener at the SAFF Cup on December 23 before facing Nepal two days later and concluding their group stage campaign against Sri Lanka on December 27 after the draws for the tournament were made in New Delhi on Wednesday.
“We have to lay the groundwork for the SAFF Cup now regardless of the FIFA decision,” former PFF secretary Col Mujahidullah Tareen told Dawn on Wednesday.
“With the national team having been out of action for the last several months, we need to get started so that we’re able to compete there.”
With the PFF currently under the stewardship of Lahore High Court (LHC)-appointed Administrator Justice Asad Munir following the acrimonious PFF elections, Mujahid said he’d urged the administrator to begin football activities soon.
“The administrator will decide,” he said. “But I’ve advised him to begin with some football activity as soon as possible because the players are suffering because of the lack of action.”
With the PFF splitting into two factions, the LHC ordered a stay on elections of both groups.
However, the group led by incumbent president Faisal Saleh Hayat went ahead with the elections which saw him elected but he was issued a contempt notice by the honourable court and the polls were declared null and void and led to intervention by FIFA.
Hayat’s faction has since claimed that it can’t send the teams to play in foreign events with Pakistan pulling out of qualifiers for the AFC U-16 and U-19 Championship since their accounts have been frozen.
The other faction, meanwhile, slammed their allegations as they said Hayat’s faction withdrew Rs1,300,000 from the PFF accounts before the administrator took over.
Another issue regarding the SAFF Cup is the current diplomatic logjam between India and Pakistan, a major obstacle in conducting sporting and cultural ties between the two nations.
But the All India Football Federation (AIFF) is hoping that it will not prove to be a hindrance when Pakistan visit for the South Asian event which will be held in Kerala from December 23-January 3.
“We had Pakistan before in 2011 and played a couple of friendlies in Bangalore last year,” said AIFF general secretary Kushal Das after Wednesday’s draw, in comments reported by Press Trust of India.
“Necessary permission have to be taken from the government but I don’t see any problem.
“We will have to face it when it comes,” Das added about a possible Plan B. “We don’t foresee any problems. It is important to follow the process, may be in other cases the process was not correctly followed.”
The top two teams from each group will qualify for the semi-finals to be held on December 31.
Defending champions Afghanistan were clubbed with Maldives, Bhutan and Bangladesh in Group ‘B’.
Afghanistan beat six-time winners India in the final of the 2013 edition. The holders will make their final appearance in the tournament after deciding to be part of another regional football organisation — the Central Asia Football Association — from next year.