by Alam Zeb Safi
How long will we play with the careers of our footballers? Here I want to tell those who are doing politics on football that not a single player is happy with what is going on with the sport in the country. The players have become mentally depressed as their careers have been ruined.
Days after it was discovered that Pakistan would play against Cambodia in the World Cup 2022 Qualifiers in June, Ashfaq-led Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) announced on April 26 through an official letter that they were going to hold a camp on May 5 at the Pakistan Sports Complex Islamabad’s Jinnah Stadium. Around 32 players were invited and it was later added that around 20 more, who were picked during the inter-city event, would attend the camp.
Tariq Lutfi, who works as head coach of the Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC), was appointed as coach. And later Nasir Ismail (NBP, assistant coach), Umar Farooq (KRL, goalkeeping coach) and Mohammad Ramzan (Navy, coordinator) were announced as support staff.
Interestingly, Umar Farooq has no international experience as goalkeeping coach and Ramzan is a License C coach. It is ridiculous that such inexperienced people have been appointed for a camp being held, according to the newly-elected body, for the so-called preparations of the World Cup qualifiers.
The new body did not expect that it would hold any camp. It opted to take the step of inviting the players to the camp when it learnt that FIFA-recognised PFF was expected to hold a camp abroad.
The FIFA-recognised body has not made public any such intention.
When I interacted with several footballers during the last few days they told me that they were in a predicament, not knowing what to do. They said that they know exactly that only FIFA-recognised body could field the team in the qualifiers but they were compelled to follow the orders of their departments.
Sources told me that some foreign-based players have been contacted. Some of them have told the Ashfaq-led body that they were not able to join the camp due to their club commitments and that they were only available on FIFA days.
Interestingly, the camp circular also mentions that the players should produce their medical certificates when they report on May 5.
I ask the authorities how they can do that. It is not the responsibility of the players. It is the responsibility of the federation to conduct their medical tests through a well-known laboratory.
PFF secretary Siddiq Sheikh agreed that there was no need of mentioning such a thing in the circular. A player told me that there would be no benefit of the camp as being not recognised by FIFA and the AFC the Ashfaq-led body cannot field the team in the qualifiers. He said he did not know who would pay the air-fare if he traveled to Islamabad.
These are serious issues. The Ashfaq-led body must meet all the expenses of the players. There was no need of any such camp at all as it would be a futile exercise and wastage of time and money in the holy month of Ramadan.
When the players don’t know whether they will play in the qualifiers or not, how can they focus on their training? Technically speaking when there is no coordination of body and soul during training it leads a player towards injury.
That the camp is being organised at the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) premises is a major indication that the state is backing a camp which will be of no use.
If the newly-elected Executive Committee of the PFF really wants to benefit national players it should give way to FIFA-recognised body to field the team in the qualifiers irrespective of the deadlock between the two bodies. It is just a matter of one month as FIFA has already decided to send a joint mission of FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to Lahore on May 28 and 29 to hold talks with all parties concerned.
It is hoped that the long-standing dispute will be resolved forever. I suggest to FIFA mission to also hold talks with those experienced football journalists who have been covering Pakistan football for the last one decade or more. Holding meetings with them will enable FIFA mission to decide how to resolve the issue.
Besides the Olympic qualifiers which Pakistan missed in March due to the dispute, in the last four years, the senior team and age-group outfits and the national women team were deprived of participation in key international events.
If we miss the World Cup qualifiers it will be a huge blow to the aspirations of the players. It will hurt those the most who are in the age-group of 27 or above as they will most likely be unable to feature in the next qualifiers after four years.
In March many missed Olympic qualifiers in which under-23 team had to be fielded. The type of game which is being played with the careers of footballers is not a minor issue. I request the electronic media to highlight these issues. Had media taken football issue seriously from the start it could have been resolved by now.
It’s time to take the subject seriously as it is the question of life of around three million people of Pakistan who are being directly affected by the circumstances.