by Alam Zeb Safi
It made me both happy and sad when I witnessed a jam-packed Kakri Ground in Lyari during a football game of a local event just a couple of days before the start of Ramazan.
It made me happy to see the love for the game and the local players. But it hurt me a lot when I felt that the most sought-after sport in the country has been destroyed due to prolonged litigation between two groups of Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) who have been fighting for their vested interests. They don’t care for the players whose future is in danger. For the last 14 months or so Pakistan has been out of international action. The country, which had just started growing in the sport, slumped in the world rankings and now stands at 192 out of 209 nations.
Senior, Under-23, Under-19, Under-14 and Under-13 national teams have missed continental and regional competitions. Because of the same issue a Pakistani club will not feature this August in the 2017 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup playoff qualifiers. Pakistan Premier League, the country’s major domestic event, could not be held last season. And it now seems that the league will not be organised this season as well because of the power tussle.
FIFA last year in August sent a three-member fact-finding mission to Lahore which probed the matter by interviewing both the groups. One group is led by Faisal Saleh Hayat, a seasoned politician and Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) Executive Committee member. He is recognised by FIFA as the legitimate head of the PFF. The other group is led by former Punjab Football Association’s (PFA) president Arshad Lodhi who has previously served as PFF secretary.
In September last year FIFA Executive Committee gave two years to Faisal group until September 2017 for revising the PFF constitution and holding elections afresh. But the PFF has not been able to do anything so far because of legal complications.
And the things are turning more complicated. It would be immensely important if FIFA reviewed the situation.
When I sought FIFA’s input on the matter a few days ago, I was told by its spokesperson that FIFA had been monitoring the situation.
Having covered this crisis and the tussle between Pakistan Olympic Association (POA), national federations and Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) over the implementation of the national sports policy, I understand that even at the completion of the litigation process football conflict will not be resolved but it will rather give a serious twist to the episode.
Lahore High Court (LHC) has declared the PFF June 30, 2015, elections null and void. The court has constituted a three-member committee comprising the secretaries of Pakistan Sports Board (PSB), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Sports Board and Sports Board Punjab (SBP). The committee is to hold the elections of Punjab Football Association (PFA) and Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) within four months.
The court has dismissed the petitions of the PFF in which it had challenged the vires of Sports Development and Control Ordinance 1962, PSB Rules, National Sports Policy, working and functioning of the PSB and jurisdiction of the government of Pakistan on sports matters.
The PFF has decided to go for intra-court appeal to defend its stand.
The LHC has also dismissed the contempt order against Faisal and his six companions after one of them Mustafa Advocate sought interim relief through intra-court appeal. The next hearing will be on October 19.
The issue is so serious that it may ultimately force FIFA to impose sanctions on Pakistan which will be catastrophic for the country’s football.
No institution can work efficiently without checks and balances. As per laws the general council of a federation is the supreme authority and it has the power to ensure a disciplined sail of events. But problems emerge when the general council loses its control or when it is manipulated. Had the PFF Congress been strong all these years these problems would not have emerged.
A few departments have already disbanded their football teams. If the crisis is not resolved soon it may force others to scratch their outfits. Hundreds of players will lose their jobs then.
During these 14 months, a single international player could have earned Rs1 million through international engagements. But it did not happen. Imagine how they will feed their families. The players last season faced heavy monetary losses because the Premier League was not held. It is a source of income for the players.
Disappointed by the situation a couple of qualified coaches have started quest for jobs abroad. Shehzad Anwar, who has completed his pro license, is working with a club in Brazil, which is a requirement for receiving pro license. The country may lose Shehzad as he may join any foreign club as a coach.
Before football crisis began in April last year, a few Pakistani players had started playing in foreign leagues. But now most of them have lost their contracts. The basic reason is that Pakistan’s participation in international events has been hampered. Currently only two players have foreign contracts. Star striker Kaleemulah is playing in America while gloveman Saqib Hanif is engaged in the Maldives league.
Sensing the gravity of the situation some senior players have decided to launch a ‘players association’ to defend rights of the players.
The players plan to hold protest demonstrations in the major cities of the country. They also plan to hold a sit-in in front of the Parliament House and the Supreme Court building in Islamabad. Some people within the football community are creating problems for the players who have decided to take to the streets for safeguarding their rights. If launched with a solid plan, the movement may help resolve the matter.
A former Pakistan captain told me a few days ago that the crises have pushed Pakistan football back by ten years. He said the new management would take a lot of time to restore that standard which had been achieved before this litigation. I advise the warring factions to come to the negotiating table and resolve the issue themselves which would be the best for the country’s football. Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) also should play its role in the resolution of the matter. It’s time to act seriously.