By Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: The timing was questionable. And it meant further clarity was needed.
“No comment on this,” Shahid Khokhar answered when asked by Dawn why barely 48 hours after FIFA’s blanket ban on Pakistan the Faisal Saleh Hayat faction of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) felt the need to announce a football tournament.
Khokhar is a member of the Hayat faction, which for two years despite having been given a mandate by global football governing body FIFA after a disputed election in 2015 didn’t organise a single tournament.
They went further and appealed at the court to stop the administrator appointed by it due to the dispute that broke in the PFF — which led FIFA to ban the country for ‘interference’ on Wednesday — from conducting any footballing activity.
At a launch briefing for the Classic Football League (CFL) here on Friday, Khokhar — who is the media and marketing manager of the Hayat faction — said he was there as the tournament’s director.
“I’m not here as an official of the PFF, rather I’m here as the director of the CFL,” Khokhar replied to a question by Dawn, adding his aim was to “promote football in the country”.
There were more eyebrows raised as the briefing only had pro-Hayat members, especially those from the provincial football association of Sindh.
“This tournament has the backing of the Sindh Football Association (SFA),” its secretary Rahim Baksh Baloch said. “FIFA has only banned the PFF but not the SFA and we will provide the expertise and the logistics for it.”
The bigger question is how and when the tournament will take place. The briefing seemed hastily arranged with its organisers Strawberry Sports Management elaborating little on the team ownership, the draft process to pick the teams, or a final date.
“We plan to hold it in February next year,” Haider Ali Daud Khan, the founder and CEO of Strawberry Sports Management, disclosed. “We intend to observe the situation till then and information on the tournament, its format and its processes will follow in due course.”
What he did tell was that it will feature six teams — each representing one city from Pakistan.
It seems to be based on a years-old plan by the Hayat faction to organise a ‘Pakistan Inter-city League’. A plan which never materialised.
“We will launch it in March 2014 and 90 per cent of the work is done,” then PFF’s marketing consultant Sardar Naveed Haider Khan told Dawn in October 2013.
It was Sardar’s controversial election as the Punjab Football Association (PFA) president, backed by Hayat, which led to the PFF dispute, eventually seeing it break into two factions as it headed towards its presidential polls in June 2015.
The Lahore High Court (LHC) then declared Sardar’s election illegal while ordered a stay on the PFF elections. Hayat, however, went ahead with the election, leading the court to appoint an administrator till the matter is resolved.
FIFA however gave Hayat a two-year extension in September 2015 to ratify statutes and conduct fresh elections. On Wednesday, it banned Pakistan.
Over the last two years, the only tournament the court-appointed administrator could hold — before the Hayat faction appealed in court to stop him from doing so — was the PFF Cup in February 2016 which saw almost all of the country’s major departments take part.
The CFL, meanwhile, will see top departmental players take part. Whether the departments release them for the CFL remains to be seen.
“The CFL is a plan towards commercialisation of football in Pakistan,” Khokhar said, not preferring to answer why the Hayat faction hadn’t thought of it over the last two years — or during Hayat’s 12 years at the helm.
As questionable as the timing of its announcement, further clarity is still needed.