by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: For Pakistan football, this year’s SAFF Championship was an opportunity to help shift the focus firmly back on the field following months of controversy in the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) boardroom.
But that will not happen.
Pakistan will not play at South Asia’s marquee tournament which will be held in the Indian state of Kerala from Dec 23 to Jan 3, it emerged on Sunday.
“They are never serious about football,” a disappointed Pakistan captain Kaleemullah told Dawn on Sunday. “…shame on the PFF.”
The PFF has been mired in crisis ever since it split into two factions in the lead-up to its presidential elections on June 30 after a full-blown dispute over the controversial Punjab Football Association (PFA) elections in April.
With the two groups — one led by incumbent president Faisal Saleh Hayat and the other by contender and vice-president Zahir Ali Shah — heading into the polls, it saw the Lahore High Court (LHC) intervene and order a stay on the elections.
The Hayat group however went on to hold the elections and that has resulted in a drawn-out battle against the honourable court which appointed retired Justice Asad Munir as PFF Administrator till the issue is resolved.
Last week, the court ruled that any activity regarding football can only be conducted by the PFF Administrator.
World’s football governing body FIFA, meanwhile, has backed Hayat and has given him two years to conduct fresh elections.
A possible solution could be that the Hayat group cooperates with Justice Munir to send the team to the SAFF Championship — a view which was shot down by an official of that group.
“We don’t recognise Justice Munir,” the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Dawn on Sunday.
“We go by FIFA and it recognises the body led by Hayat.
“Any Pakistan football team that participates in any official event has to go through the group led by Hayat.”
With the ongoing case at the LHC, Hayat has issued a gag order on his staff and the news of Pakistan’s withdrawal came through a report in Bangladesh newspaper Daily Star which quoted SAFF general secretary Anwarul Haque Helal.
“I received an e-mail yesterday from the PFF saying it is withdrawing the Pakistan team from the SAFF Championship,” Helal was quoted as saying while adding that no official reason was provided for the pull-out.
Justice Munir, however, said that the “issue was yet to be resolved.”
“I’ll look into the matter,” he told Dawn on Sunday. “In my view, the team should participate in the event.”
The PFF Administrator, however, cited the recent breakdown in talks between the Pakistan and Indian cricket boards for a bilateral series due to the tense political situation between the countries.
“The team can only go if the government allows it to go to India,” he added.
Pakistan had been originally drawn into Group ‘A’ of the tournament alongside hosts India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.