by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has finally admitted that a now sprawling case involving Pakistan champions K-Electric potentially breached FIFA regulations, Dawn can exclusively reveal.
The case, first reported by Dawn in January, involved Asia’s football governing body opening an investigation into how two British-based players of Pakistani origin — Irfan Khan and Shani Abbasi — featured for K-Electric in the AFC Cup qualifying playoff without an International Transfer Certificate (ITC).
The duo helped K-Electric win the qualifying playoffs for Asia’s second-tier club tournament in Bhutan in August last year but were released by the side later as the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) winners’ dream of being the first side from the country to reach the competition disintegrated with a 2-0 defeat to Al Hidd in the playoff in February.
While K-Electric never got an ITC for the duo, claiming Irfan and Shani were Pakistani nationals, the scope of the case has broadened with an email — seen by Dawn — in which the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) has been asked to arrange for the same document for Irfan when the team were taking part in the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup in Bangladesh in October last year.
While that email points to laxity on part of the PFF and K-Electric, it also puts to rest any notion that both were unaware that an ITC needed to be issued for Irfan and Shani to take part in the AFC Cup qualifying playoff.
In February, the AFC confirmed to Dawn that investigation into the matter was ongoing after a letter was sent to the PFF in January, asking it to provide it with a copy of the ITCs issued for Irfan and Shani.
An ITC is generated by FIFA’s Transfer Matching System (TMS) and requires details and documentation to be fed into the system so the player’s registration can be transferred between the two countries.
Last week, the AFC spokesperson told Dawn there was “no update” on the issue but it was “aware of it”.
When pressed if it had forwarded the issue to the global football body, the AFC spokesperson said on Friday it hadn’t referred it to FIFA “but the issue involves a potential breach of FIFA regulations so the FIFA Disciplinary Committee may also be investigating the matter”.
In a surprising twist to the case — one which could potentially see greater involvement by FIFA, K-Electric’s former sports head Zabe Khan had also asked the PFF officials to arrange for an ITC for Jon Ashworth as they wanted to take the Englishman to the Sheikh Kamal Cup.
According to documentation seen by Dawn, the Sheikh Kamal Cup is a FIFA tier 2 competition and K-Electric’s entry was authorised by the PFF.
“I would appreciate it if you could please apply to the English Football Association (FA) for the ITC for the above passport holders,” Zabe said in that email to PFF officials of the Faisal Saleh Hayat faction on October 7, namely secretary retired Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi and marketing and integrity manager Fahad Khan.
The PFF split into two factions after claims of incumbent president Hayat tampering with the constitution to keep himself in power in the lead-up to its presidential elections last June.
It led to the Lahore High Court (LHC) intervening and calling for a stay on the polls but the Hayat faction went ahead with the elections.
The court subsequently issued a contempt notice to Hayat while appointing retired Justice Munir as an administrator until the issue is resolved while FIFA has tasked Hayat to correct the constitution and hold fresh polls within two years.
With the Hayat body recognised by FIFA, it is they who have the task of arranging for the ITCs. In Zabe’s email, there were passports attached of both Ashworth and Irfan.
Astonishingly, though, the ITC for Ashworth — seen by Dawn in February — had the blessings of the Nigerian Football Federation to register with the PFF.
Ashworth never played for a club in Nigeria, namely Kwara United FC as mentioned in the ITC with TMS reference number 119081.
The document was send to FIFA, which asked Dawn in February to refer to the clubs concerned and did not comment on the issue due to the “confidential nature of the FIFA TMS system”.
Zabe did not respond to a request for comment by Dawn.
Ashworth’s background is quite dicey too. He was hired by Aspirations Consultancy and Enterprises — the company in which K-Electric’s head coach for the AFC Cup qualifying playoff and Sheikh Kamal Cup, Majid Shafiq worked as a director — as customer services director in September last year, only for his contract to be terminated in January.
Ashworth reportedly met England-based Majid when the latter was working as director at Stalybridge Celtic and joined K-Electric through the Aspirations All-Pakistan Football Alliance — Majid’s organisation, which acts as a liaison between players and clubs.
“He worked with APFA administration before K-Electric tour and exited after we had issues with his social media conduct,” Majid told Dawn on Monday.
When FIFA was forwarded Zabe’s October 7 email, a spokesperson told Dawn on Thursday: “We will revert back to you in due time.”
There was no update by FIFA till the filing of this report.
The PFF, meanwhile, is wary of a potential FIFA investigation into the matter.
“They are very cautious at the moment,” a well-placed source told Dawn on Monday. “They know it will not reflect well on them if they’re shown guilty of negligence and not complying with FIFA rules.”
For amateur players, FIFA’s regulations on transfer of players state that the club must submit an application to its association, which in turn, should request the former association to issue an ITC for the player.
The former association should then issue an ITC within seven days but there is a provisional registration option if the new association does not receive a response to the ITC request within 30 days.
In K-Electric’s case, it remains to be seen whether the PFF did send a request to the FA for an ITC for Ashworth. Right now, it seems, it didn’t.