by Alam Zeb Safi
Pakistan’s football has been passing through a most turbulent period of its history. The long-drawn litigation over the past few years between Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) and its rival group headed by Arshad Lodhi and Syed Zahir Shah inflicted an unprecedented damage on the country’s football.
After a three-year playing drought, Pakistan last summer returned to international football by featuring in the Asian Games and SAFF Cup held in Indonesia and Bangladesh, respectively.
The world football governing body (FIFA) has reportedly given PFF time until March 2020 with the instructions to revise its constitution and hold fresh elections. But much to the surprise of the PFF the things took a twist when the Supreme Court on Wednesday (November 14) announced that the PFF’s elections would be held within a month.
The apex court has assigned the task of holding the elections to Pakistan Bar Council’s member Shoaib Shaheen. It shocked the ranks of the PFF. According to sources, the federation had not expected such an order. The Supreme Court took the decision on the CM which had been filed by Lodhi on October 23.
The apex court had ordered in April that first PFA and then PFF elections would be conducted. The PFA elections had been conducted by a senior lawyer of the Supreme Court in May in which Naveed Haider was elected as president. The PFA election was the real issue which had created crack in football fraternity way back in 2015.
Because of this and the June 30, 2015, elections of the PFF, the situation got complicated which led to a long-drawn litigation. The situation had become so complicated that FIFA suspended Pakistan’s membership last year.
The world body restored it early this year after Lahore High Court (LHC) reinstated PFF and ordered administrator Asad Munir to hand over the PFF headquarters in Lahore and accounts to the PFF immediately. This led to resumption of football activities. Following the November 14 development, the PFF is expected to take input from FIFA. The situation will become clear in a few days.
Hardly hours after the court announced PFF’s elections on November 14, Malik Amir Dogar, a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf MNA from Multan, reportedly announced that he would contest the PFF elections. Dogar is the son of Salahuddin Dogar, a former PFF Congress member and the founder of the Qasim Bagh Stadium Multan which hosted the first phase of the ongoing Premier League. Some more people are interested in the PFF presidency.
According to sources in the Lodhi group, former health minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Syed Zahir Ali Shah will contest the elections against the PFF chief Faisal Saleh Hayat.
FIFA might impose sanctions on Pakistan once again before the PFF elections. The things are not that easy to handle keeping in view the international rules. We have seen in the past a similar situation — a war between Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) and Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) over the implementation of national sports policy.
POA, a unit of International Olympic Committee (IOC), eventually emerged victorious. Pakistan government had to bow before IOC by restoring working relationship with POA when Riaz Hussain Pirzada was the federal minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC).
According to sources, the PTI government has decided that PFF chief Faisal Saleh Hayat and POA president Lt Gen (retd) Arif Hasan would be removed.
How the state machinery will do this is yet to be seen. Both Faisal and Zahir Shah belong to Pakistan Peoples’ Party and there is every chance of reconciliation between the two politicians over the PFF elections. According to well-informed sources, Zahir Shah has asked former Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari not to interfere in football politics.
When the 2015 PFF elections were being held, Captain Safdar, son-in-law of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had shown interest in contesting the elections but he was not eligible to do so. So the PML-N had to bring in Zahir Shah, a PFF Congress member and chief of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Football Association. Ali Noor Niazi, son-in-law of Nawaz Sharif, had played a key role in convincing Zahir to stand against Faisal by visiting Peshawar.
It is going to be a tough test for Faisal. Faisal is also the executive committee member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and has strong ties with both the continental body and FIFA.
But I would like to mention that the PFA chief Naveed does not seem happy with PFF. A few days ago there were reports that Naveed was not treated respectfully by the PFF during a reception organised in honour of the team which finished second in the SAFF Under-15 Championship in Kathmandu recently. Naveed denied this when I contacted him.
However, his body language showed that there was something wrong. The recent unexpected resignation of PFF Director Competitions Sajjad Mehmood and three others in competition, finance and referees’ wings, led to speculations that there has been something wrong in the PFF.
If Pakistan football faces any halt it will bury the sport in which over three million people are directly involved.