by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: The April talks have now been delayed till May, and they will only prolong the football crisis in Pakistan.
The joint FIFA/AFC fact-finding mission to Pakistan, that was due to come later this month to meet with the stakeholders and decide on a way forward to extricate the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) out of the situation it finds itself in, will now come in May, global football body FIFA said on Wednesday.
“The visit was initially scheduled for April 24-25 but, at the request of PFF’s President and General Secretary, it has been postponed to a later date in May,” a FIFA spokesperson told Dawn.
The PFF officials FIFA is referring to are the ones it recognises: president Faisal Saleh Hayat and general secretary retired Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi. The PFF recognised in the country is the one led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah, who was elected in an election held in December last year which was ordered by the Supreme Court.
“On this question we kindly refer you to PFF,” the FIFA spokesperson added when asked if the PFF officials gave a reason for postponing the visit of the mission.
FIFA announced last week, after a meeting of its Member Associations Committee on April 3, it was going to send a joint mission with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to the country.
“The Member Associations Committee has decided to send a FlFA/AFC fact-finding mission to Pakistan to discuss with all parties, assess the situation and at a later stage make concrete proposals for the way forward,” it had said then.
The officials of the Hayat faction were contacted to ask why they had asked for postponement of the mission’s visit but there was no response till the filing of this report. Last week, Hayat was elected vice-president of the AFC.
The delay in the resolution of the PFF crisis could lead to Pakistan missing out on participation in the first qualifying round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. Asia’s 12 worst teams enter the first qualifying round, the draw for which would be on April 17 and the first batch of the games to be played on June 6.
Dawn has reliably learnt that the lack of urgency by the Hayat faction in resolving the PFF issue is due to the fact that there is a feeling prevalent that even if the PFF issue were to be resolved there will be very little time or finances to prepare the team for the all-important first qualifying round.
Missing out on the World Cup and the Asian Cup qualifiers would be the latest blow to the country’s football which has been mired in crisis due to a tussle over PFF’s control over the last four years.
The court-ordered PFF election was the first step towards resolving the crisis but FIFA will make a final decision, having earlier called those polls as “third-party interference”.
In October last year, FIFA’s Member Associations committee had given the Hayat-led PFF an 18-month period — until March 2020 — to hold fresh elections.
After a controversial PFF election in June 2015, that sparked a dispute in the football body, Hayat was earlier given a two-year mandate in September 2015 to ratify the PFF statutes and hold fresh elections. The Hayat-led body made no headway into those issues.
The PFF was banned for six months for “third-party intervention” before FIFA lifted the suspension in March last year after Hayat was restored as the PFF chief on the orders of the Lahore High Court, which had appointed an administrator to oversee PFF affairs in 2015.
The case went to the Supreme Court the very next month with the country’s apex court ordering fresh elections that saw Ashfaq elected as the country’s football chief.
Ahead of the SC-ordered election, FIFA had warned that the PFF faces possible suspension if the polls went ahead but decided to send a mission due to what it termed “complex circumstances” surrounding the election.
“The committee was informed of the details of the complex circumstances surrounding the electoral process that was ordered by the Supreme Court if the Republic of Pakistan in December 2018 and its aftermath,” FIFA secretary-general Fatma Samoura wrote to Lodhi in a letter seen by Dawn, informing him of the decision. “Based on the aforementioned, the Committee decided that FIFA and the AFC send a fact-finding mission to Pakistan.”