by Alam Zeb Safi
Pakistan’s football situation has taken an interesting twist over the last few days. On May 5, Ashfaq Hussain-led Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) started national football team camp at the Jinnah Stadium, located inside Pakistan Sports Complex, which is also the headquarters of the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB).
The purpose of the camp is to prepare the team for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers first round in which Pakistan are to play against Cambodia in the two-legged engagement to be held on June 6 and 11.
The winners from here will move into the second round to be held later this summer.
The Ashfaq-led body was formed in last year’s elections held under the decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. But FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) don’t recognise this body, which means it can’t field the team in the qualifiers.
As was expected, in the meantime, the FIFA-recognised PFF, being headed by Faisal Saleh Hayat, started a camp at Bahrain, under the supervision of Brazilian coach Jose Antonio Nogueira.
The team being prepared in Bahrain can be fielded in the qualifiers. But some key players of Pakistan, including captain Saddam Hussain, Mansoor Khan and Saqib Hanif, will miss the qualifiers because they are in the Islamabad camp.
This tug of war between the two bodies will hit the players hard. The situation is going to get complicated even further.
The Ashfaq-led body warned that the players who did not report at the camp by May 16 would face strict action. It wrote letters to the organisations where such footballers are employed. It also said all those officials and players who moved abroad would face action. This war is killing the players’ careers.
The situation has left the players utterly confused. If they don’t go with Ashfaq-led body they may lose jobs and if they don’t go with Faisal-led body they may miss World Cup qualifiers.
Irrespective of the outcome of the ongoing war, players’ future seems insecure as I see the situation getting uglier in the months to come.
Why is the government letting all this happen? For how long will it allow these people to play with the careers of our players?
I have learnt that both federations did not bother to approach Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) for arbitration because they believe that it is not in the FIFA statutes.
They should know if in future POA opted not to own PFF then Pakistan football teams, both men and women, would not be able to feature in the Asian Games and South Asian Games.
FIFA has not prevented them from correcting their own house.
If we look at both federations they have some politicians in their ranks belonging to different parties. They think they are clever and those who are honest are stupid. But they should know that they are playing a dirty game and are destroying careers of the players.
It is not easy to predict what will happen in the next few days. But it is clear that both federations have prepared themselves well for meetings with the joint delegation of FIFA and the AFC coming to Pakistan near the end of this month.
I don’t think the mission would be able to find any easy way to resolve the dispute which has inflicted an unprecedented damage on Pakistan football in the last four years. FIFA’s decision may be tough and it may sink many.
In recent years the PFF has been on the radar of politicians. In 2015 Captain (retd) Mohammad Safdar, son-in-law of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, wanted to topple Faisal Saleh Hayat but he could not contest the elections as he was not eligible. He then got himself elected as a Lahore-based club president in order to try in future to grab the coveted post.
Now a PTI MNA Amir Dogar from Multan also seems to be an aspirant for the coveted post in future as he has got himself elected as vice-president of the Ashfaq-led PFF last year. The actual issue is that after Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) the PFF is the richest federation and that is why it lures influential personalities. And the way FIFA and the AFC are focusing on football development PFF’s value will increase and football will emerge as the leading sport of Pakistan in the next few years.
Now I want to come to the general sports. The other day representatives of six federations were invited by the Ministry for Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) to Islamabad for a meeting. Before the meeting a senior official of a federation told me that they were going to meet the IPC minister Dr Fehmida Mirza and was very happy. He was expecting that the ministry would agree to release annual grants to some federations. But during the meeting they were told that they would not be getting annual grants.
The ministry informed them that the state would be backing 18 federations of the leading sports. When some of them presented their demands for fielding their teams in various events they were told to come up with detailed proposals.
Director General of Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) Arif Ibrahim did not attend the meeting which raised many eyebrows.
The federations were also told by the ministry that camps for the 13th South Asian Games would start after Ramadan.
Not releasing annual grants would create a huge problem for the federations. Even running their offices would be difficult for them.
In this situation, only those federations would survive who have strong contacts and fair record of dealing with the sponsors.
The federations will have to boost their ties with multinational companies and strengthen their relations with the provincial governments which have been getting more resources since the 18th Amendment.
Some federations are in deep trouble as they have already spent money on their teams’ foreign tours from their pockets.
But I would advise Dr Fehmida that the government should back leading karateka Saadi Abbas, judoka Shah Hussain, javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem, wrestler Mohammad Inam and weightlifters Nooh Dastgir Butt and Talha Talib in their quest for Olympic qualification.
I firmly believe that at least three of them can qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics if rightly supported by the government. Although we have missed some part of qualifying events, we still have chance to fight for Olympic seats. We need some players to qualify for Tokyo 2020 as the chances of our hockey team qualifying for the mega event are slim.