by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Cup was aimed at reviving the game in the country following eight months of inaction.
But as the tournament kicked off with the qualifying round on Thursday, reports emerged that the participating teams had been threatened with dire consequences as the vicious power struggle for control of Pakistan football threatened to spill on to the pitch.
So far the power struggle had only been limited to the courts as two factions of the PFF fought it out to resolve a dispute that began in the lead-up to the June 30 presidential elections of the country’s football governing body.
Now, though, it has seen teams being targeted.
As the PFF split into two factions following the controversial elections of the Punjab Football Association (PFA) in April, the Lahore High Court (LHC) intervened and ordered a stay on the presidential polls.
Incumbent PFF chief Faisal Saleh Hayat, though, went ahead and held the elections which led the LHC to declare the polls null and void whilst also making retired Justice Asad Munir the PFF administrator.
In subsequent orders, the LHC also declared that any football activity in the country could only be conducted by Munir.
The announcement of the PFF Cup brought relief to most departmental sides who had been crying out for football action in the country.
However, the Sindh Football Association (SFA) — in what seems to be a violation of the court orders which have empowered Munir to hold the tournament — threatened teams from the province with “severe disciplinary action” if they were to take part in the PFF Cup.
A letter, seen by Dawn, by SFA president Khadim Ali Shah — a Hayat ally — to departments and clubs in the province, the clubs are warned against “participation in [an] unauthorised football tournament”.
“This is to inform you that a so called group is trying to hold a football tournament without obtaining permission from the proper authority and SFA,” declares Khadim in the letter.
“All the departmental teams are hereby advised to refrain and avoid participating. Any team participating in the said so called tournament will be taken to task and severe disciplinary action will be taken.”
The letter prompted a furious response from National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) head coach Nasir Ismail.
“We departments aren’t bound to follow SFA,” Nasir told Dawn on Thursday. “So many departments have disbanded their football teams lately and never has the SFA raised a voice.
“The SFA has never given the departments a single penny and instead of being thankful to the PFF administrator, who is organising the tournament, they’re trying to steal the bread and butter of players who have been under immense pressure with no football lately.”
There was a word of praise for the PFF Cup from Zia Dogar, president of the Fame Sports Club and Academy in Lahore where Saif Textile, in Group III of the qualifying round, warmed up for the tournament with a 2-2 draw against Group IV contestants Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL).
“The PFF Cup is a source of inspiration and has raised hope of game revival after a long stagnant period [for football],” Dogar was quoted as saying in a news release.
There were goals galore for Ashraf Sugar Mills (ASM) in the first game of the PFF Cup as a hat-trick by Mohammad Bilal saw them rout Pakistan Steel 6-0 here at the KMC Stadium.
Victory saw ASM take early charge of Group ‘I’ which was reduced to three teams after Social Welfare Team (SWT) failed to “reach Karachi from Chaman due to unavoidable circumstances”, according to tournament director Rauf Bari.
Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) are the other team in the group with the top two teams from each of the four qualifying groups advancing to the final round which begins from February 9.
Bilal opened the scoring in the 20th minute before ASM took Pakistan Steel to the sword in the second half.
Imran Ali doubled their advantage five minutes into the second half with Mohammad Imran making it 3-0 in the 53rd. Bilal added two more in quick succession to complete his treble in the 67th before substitute Kashif Amin rounded off the scoring in the 85th.
PFF Cup organising committee chairman Ali Bahar Brohi, who in a news conference two days ago denied that the tournament was a one-faction event — as stated by Khadim, inaugurated the tournament by kicking the ball.
Khadim’s letter remained the main talking point of the day with Bari slamming the accusations that the tournament was being organised by a faction.
“The PFF Cup is being organised and staged with the permission and under the authority of the PFF administrator and with a view to ensuring that notwithstanding the current issues facing Pakistan football, the teams should not be denied an opportunity of participating in a national event since the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) has already been cancelled for this season,” Bari told Dawn in a statement on Thursday.
“Therefore Khadim’s letter to the participating teams is not only a violation of the PFF constitution but significantly, his actions trying to undermine an event authorised by the PFF administrator is tantamount to contempt of Court.
“The references in his letter to the PFF Cup being an ‘unauthorised’ event ‘without obtaining permission from the proper authority’ and threatening the participating teams with ‘severe disciplinary action’ are not only false to his knowledge, but defamatory and contemptuous, in which regard, PFF reserves all its rights including issuing a legal notice and initiating appropriate legal proceedings including for contempt.”
Friday’s fixtures (all kick-offs at 3:30pm):
Group ‘II’: Karachi United v Gwadar Port Authority (KPT Stadium, Karachi); Sindh Government Press v Pakistan Police (KMC Stadium, Karachi).
Group ‘IV’: Higher Education Commission v Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (Jinnah Stadium, Islamabad).