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Let’s clear the mess [TNS]

by Alam Zeb Safi

At a football function held recently at the British Council in Karachi, I had a discussion with Pakistani footballers based in England and Denmark and they were very unhappy with the situation of the country’s football. Like the home-grown players, they also want early resolution of the dispute. For the last 19 months, the footballers have been inactive in Pakistan due to the conflict between two groups — a war for controlling Pakistan Football Federation (PFF).

The actors involved on both sides are so insensitive that they don’t care for the future of the players who have no other option in life — football is their bread and butter. But the callous approach of these people whose only objective is to grab power and control the most powerful federation of Pakistan has destroyed their careers.

In the last 19 months, the country missed AFC Under-19 Championship qualifiers, AFC Under-16 Championship Qualifiers, SAFF Cup, South Asian Games, AFC Solidarity Cup, AFC Cup play-off qualifiers and several other international events.

At the domestic level the players missed two consecutive Premier Leagues which was the main source of their income. There is no early resolution of the dispute in sight as several cases are still pending in the courts.

The Faisal Saleh Hayat Group has the support of FIFA. But Lahore High Court does not recognise his federation and has declared its elections of June 30, 2015, null and void. The court has brought in former justice Asad Muneer as the PFF administrator and he has been drawing a handsome salary.

Faisal’s rival group, which has some big names and the most seasoned PFF Congress members Zahir Shah and Arshad Lodhi, has in its possession the PFF headquarters in Lahore which it occupied a few days after the PFF’s so-called extraordinary congress in Islamabad last year. The congress in a dramatic move suspended the PFF president Faisal Saleh Hayat and terminated secretary Col Ahmed Yar Lodhi.

I always say that the fault lies in all the PFF congress members. And when congress or general council is hijacked by an individual there is every chance of such disputes.

When any one objects to the head of the congress, effort is made to expel him or her from the house who raises the voice. Having covered activities of over 30 federations I am convinced that all of them suffer the same ailment and unless it is cured Pakistan’s sports could not progress.

Last year FIFA sent its fact-finding mission to Lahore which talked to both sides. It was expected that FIFA would end the crisis but it failed to do so. It rather gave two years to Faisal group for revising the PFF constitution and holding elections afresh until September 2017 but it did not work.

FIFA should make another effort under its new president Infantino who beat Sheikh Salman of Bahrain in FIFA elections early this year.

Only FIFA can resolve the issue as it runs all football activities in countries like Pakistan which don’t have enough state support. The intervention of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the matter can be helpful. But it is unfortunate that he cares only about cricket.

The federal minister of Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) Riaz Hussain Pirzada should meet Nawaz Sharif for the sake of footballers and discus with him the pressing issue that has financially affected thousands of players and their families. Because of the dispute international players have been unable to sign foreign contracts. How would any foreign club offer them contracts when they don’t play in international circuit?

Because of future risks the players are also unable to raise their voice openly. Former Pakistan captain Mohammad Essa made a brave effort to stage a protest demonstration in Karachi for the resumption of football activities in the country but some departments did not permit their players to become part of the protest because they support a particular group.

I think even if a quarter of national footballers come out on roads for safeguarding their future, it could force the government to intervene.

The players must come out and resolve the dispute themselves. If they keep waiting for anyone else’s support they will get nothing as those involved in fighting are only working for their own interests.

Pakistan is a potential football market which is being destroyed by its own people.

The other day representatives of Leisure Leagues, a major England-based company running small-side football leagues in England and other states, talked about Pakistan’s market.

The company is going to start small-side leagues in Pakistan from next month. Why has this company opted to come here? It sees that Pakistan football market has something to offer. But we don’t know our football’s importance and are destroying it.

Published in The News on Sunday, 11 December 2016

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