by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: Alexandre Gros stopped short of admitting FIFA should’ve appointed a Normalisation Committee for the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) four years ago. But he did say that with the appointment of a Normalisation Committee led by Humza Khan, the global football body was committed to doing its best for the game in Pakistan.
Speaking to selected media including Dawn here on Tuesday, the senior governance services manager of FIFA’s Member Associations Committee also threw his weight behind Humza as the Normalisation Committee chairman and bring Pakistan football out of its recent crisis-plagued years.
“We wanted to act for quite some time but the trigger point for FIFA to decide it was high time to appoint the Normalisation Committee was when we saw that the Pakistan national team facing difficulty in participating in the first round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier,” Gros said. “Both factions had set up their own training camps and that was a bit too much, although I must admit the situation had been the same for a long time.”
The announcement to appoint the committee came in June and FIFA revealed the composition of the committee last week with Gros admitting that forming the body, which will run the daily affairs of the PFF and hold fresh elections in nine months’ time, was a tough task.
“Pakistan was very tricky,” he said, drawing on his experience of working in several other countries. “It was very complicated. There were deep divisions in Pakistan football. And if we didn’t act now, this vicious cycle would’ve continued. FIFA is trying to do its best for Pakistan football. This is a country of about 220 million and yet it’s languishing at 204th in the FIFA rankings. We want the sport to grow in Pakistan.”
The PFF broke into two factions following a controversial election held by then-incumbent president Faisal Saleh Hayat in June 2015. It saw the matter go to both FIFA and the Supreme Court. While FIFA continued to back Hayat, the SC, at the culmination of a long, drawn-out legal battle, announced fresh elections that saw Syed Ashfaq Hussain Shah elected as PFF chief last year.
FIFA did not accept Ashfaq’s election but it did ask him and Hayat to send nominations for the four posts of members in the committee. Eventually two from each group, retired Col Mujahidullah Tareen and Sikander Khattak from Ashfaq’s and Munir Ahmed Khan Sadhana and Syed Hasan Najib Shah from Hayat’s were named. Gros, however, clarified that the appointment of Humza came from FIFA itself.
“No one recommended Humza,” said Gros. “Earlier we tried to take input from both parties for the post of chairman and tried to mediate. But there is a lot of distrust and antagonism. The conflict is permanent so we took it upon ourselves to select.”
Since Humza’s appointment, officials of the Hayat group have questioned his neutrality, citing that since he was part of Karachi United, he would share the same views as that of the club’s founder Taha Alizai who has been a legal representative for the Ashfaq faction.
Gros rubbished those views. “I know there will be people trying to question the impartiality of the chairman … it’s part of the game here to try and derail the process,” he said. “We know Humza played for Karachi United and that he and Taha played together but that doesn’t represent common political thinking. We are very sure that he doesn’t work for either side.”
Humza, sitting next to Gros, added: “If you have played football together, it doesn’t mean you share the same views. Karachi United isn’t all about Taha. There are many people there who have their own individual views.”
The Hayat faction has also protested the presence of Col Mujahid on the committee. But Gros rejected the notion that the former PFF secretary general wasn’t the right choice. “It was the easiest selection for us … Col Mujahid is an encyclopedia on Pakistan football and a football man through and through. His qualities far outweigh what’s being said about him,” he said about the former Pakistan captain.
Gros seemed less convinced about the other three members. Sikander is a close friend of Ashfaq while Sadhana is a personal lawyer of Hayat and Najib is the vice-chairman of Imperial Builders and Developers in Sri Lanka which reportedly has business ties with Hayat’s company Gulf Imperial in the United Arab Emirates.
While asking both parties for candidates for the Normalisation Committee, FIFA asked them for individuals who were “neutral or external to recent disputes in Pakistani football” and had “no material or familial relationship with any member of either party in the disputes or with any member of the PFF administration”.
“It’s our job to outline the characterestics,” Gros said. “If a person chooses profiles without that criterion, it’s their prerogative. There will be an eligibility check on the members from the FIFA governance committee.”
Gros however added that a “close friend” like Sikander doesn’t represent a conflict of interest while adding that Sadhana, who is also a member of the Punjab Football Association (PFA), provided the committee with “legal expertise”. He added that Najib had committed to coming to Pakistan to work with the committee and said they hadn’t checked yet if Najib potentially shared any family ties with Hayat.
“The committee was formed after a painful process,” said Humza. “Question around familial, material relationship is subjective but if it hampers the working of the committee, those people will be changed.”
Gros reiterated that in many cases around the world, “members are changed and at times the whole committee has been changed” but said he was generally happy at the reaction that the committee has received. “If both parties aren’t happy with the decision taken, it means I’ve done my job well,” he said.
The Normalisation Committee will meet for the first time on Wednesday and a huge question mark remains over the fate of the PFF secretariat. Hayat’s long-serving secretary retired Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi was on Tuesday in Kuala Lumpur to attend the executive committee meeting of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) where they decided to shift the 2020 edition of the SAFF Championship from Pakistan to Bangladesh.
With the Normalisation Committee having already been announced, Humza wasn’t consulted before the decision was made. Gros said that while the decision to shift the tournament was “unfortunate for Pakistan”, Humza “had the powers of the PFF chief and could ask SAFF to reconsider”.
Humza was asked whether removing Col Lodhi it would give his detractors more ammunition against him to which he gave a very straightforward response. “The nature of my job will be to take decisions,” he said. “Tough decisions are part of my job and criticism comes with the mandate.”
With FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) giving operational funds to the Normalisation Committee, Humza was confident that football activities will soon resume in the country.
But the most arduous and most important task for the committee is the race against time they face in conducting scrutiny of the clubs across the country, drafting an electoral code for the elections and conduct polls from districts all the way up to the PFF executive committee by June next year.
“The scrutiny is going to be a long process and when you consider that, nine months seems a very ambitious timeframe,” said Gros. “It happens from time to time that mandates of Normalisation Committees are extended. But our objective remains to conduct the election by June.”
After that, and after the recent years of turmoil, Pakistan football can hopefully look forward to a new era of development and footballing excellence.