by Umaid Wasim & Mir Shabbar Ali
KARACHI: Two years after staging a successful edition of the event, Pakistan will miss this year’s SAFF Women’s Championship.
The Pakistan men’s national team has missed a number of tournaments over the last year due to a prolonged dispute in the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) and now the same fate will befall their women counterparts.
“Pakistan are not participating in the [November] event due to the crisis in its federation,” South Asian Football Federation president Kazi Salahuddin informed Dawn on Thursday.
The PFF has been mired in crisis ever since it split into two factions in the lead-up to its presidential elections in June last year 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 and also asked him to hold fresh polls.
In September last year, world’s football governing body FIFA backed Hayat and gave him two years to amend the PFF statutes and conduct fresh elections.
The Hayat faction has since pulled the men’s team out of the SAFF Suzuki Cup late last year and the upcoming AFC Solidarity Cup in November even though the PFF Administrator has been keen on Pakistan’s participation in the aforementioned tournaments.
The PFF Administrator cannot send the team since FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) will only admit entries from the Hayat faction.
“This is Pakistan’s internal matter,” Kazi said when asked if the SAFF will intervene and try to resolve the dispute. “This situation can arise in any country. We are very neutral.”
Even if there was no PFF crisis, Pakistan would’ve missed the event anyway since India are the hosts and there has been a recent surge in political tension between the two countries which has seen sporting ties being affected.
The Pakistan kabaddi team was barred from the World Cup which begins later this week.
Kazi, though, said there was no chance of SAFF moving the event from India if Pakistan was sending the team.
“We don’t agree that it should be taken out of India,” Kazi told. “They were given the hosting rights last year and we believe our member associations shouldn’t be political.”
Dawn sought a comment from both the spokesperson of the Hayat faction and the chairperson of its women’s wing, Rubina Irfan but there was no response from both of them till the filing of this report.
But women’s team goalkeeper Mahpara Shahid lamented the missing out on the SAFF Women’s Championship, especially after the last edition — held in Islamabad — raised hopes for the women’s game in the country.
“It’s a huge setback for us,” she told Dawn on Thursday. “The PFF dispute means we aren’t even getting to play domestic events. We are more or less back to zero after the progress we made when the team was formed initially.”
Mahpara added the players wanted the dispute to be over soon.
“We don’t care which party gets to lead the PFF,” she said. “All we need them to do is work for football.”