by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee head Humza Khan has said that the decision on football season in Pakistan will be taken next month, while the footballers believe that the decision is correct, yet they are having a tough time riding out the Covid-19 pandemic.
The PFF Division B league had to be stopped with a notification from PFF on March 16 that the matches cannot go on due to health risk in the middle of a global pandemic.
Khan, in fact, travelled to Lahore for the PFF affairs in getting official matters to pick up pace this week, saying the priority is to have the audit of the federation done first.
The FIFA-appointed NC have been given a task to hold fresh elections, while the mandate of the committee has also been extended till December, because it was difficult to carry on the daily affairs in the pandemic as there has also been a lockdown.
Despite the lockdown Pakistan has seen a progressive increase in the Covid-19 cases and since the lockdown has been lifted last month, the number of officially confirmed cases has risen significantly.
Although football maybe resuming internationally like Bundesliga returned last month, with English Premier League, La Liga and Serie A preparing for return this month too, it is highly dangerous for Pakistan to make any move towards bringing the game back.
“The PFF has been closed for two months now. There has been pending work, so I decided that I should come to Lahore with all the safety precautions,” Khan told The Express Tribune.
“We will wait it out till July to decide on resuming footballing activities. Our priority is to sort out the audit and financial records first. We will have a tentative idea about the resumption later. For now we need to have a full-fledged functional PFF office here in Lahore, with precautions, because there is a lot that is pending because of the lockdown.”
The Division B league was featuring 18 teams in the qualifying rounds that were played in Karachi, Quetta and Faisalabad from March 10, while the club leg matches were scheduled to start on March 23 in Lahore, whereas the dates of the final round were to be announced later.
‘Death for sportspersons’
The Division B league was suspended on March 16 on the directives of FIFA to all the member associations, while the next match that was scheduled to take place was between Pakistan Steel Mills and Karachi United.
The league may have stopped but it was the beginning of a harder time for footballers across the board, and especially for Pakistan Steel. The departmental side is said to be on the verge of getting closed, as the Pakistan Steel Mills administration wants to shut down the sport teams altogether, whereas the athletes, including 23 footballers are now notified from the management to work as security guards.
“It is a way of torturing the athletes. It is unfair because the management don’t see how important sports are and they completely disregarded our sacrifice and our struggle,” a Pakistan Steel Mills athlete rued.
“We are now to work as security guards, from June 11, and we are trying to ask the management to not do this. We have played football from 2010 onwards on our own. The department never paid for any of the travels or shared any expenses. We played for this department because we love football, we live football and breathe it too, instead of rewarding us, instead of taking pride, they have decided to make us security guards and take away the sport. It is a death sentence for sportspersons.”
The Pakistan Steel Mills athletes cannot talk openly as they can get notification from their department, but at the same time they are forced to suffer in silence.
While the athlete added that although the Division B league is rightly suspended the players have been trying to stay fit on their own.
“We know these are bad times, but to end the sports teams is unfair. A very accomplished Asian medallist boxer Rasheed Qambrani is forced to work as a security guard too, and now we have the possibility that we may not play football again either, if they chose to close the sports teams, dismantle them.
“I just want to ask, how is this fair? Is this the return we should get for making the department proud, playing in the national tournaments and having decent performances too despite zero financial input from the management. We don’t even use the Pakistan Steel Mills ground, we can’t because that is used commercially where weddings take place,” he added.
Similarly another person who is closely associated with the sport said that he wants to appeal to the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of Pakistan to save athletes from suffering and save sports.
“The Division B league is stopped and we would have hoped to play it. We’ve played all these tournaments in the past on our own expense, even if we have to take debts from our friends and family just to play. We would want to resume it; however, how can it happen if they shut the teams altogether? This is torturous, it is unfair and inhumane.”
‘Conditions are harsh’
On the other hand, Gwadar Port Authority players have also suffered. In fact the newly inducted 13 players only receive Rs7,000 per month to play. Before the Division B league stopped they played their two matches in Group A of departmental leg in Karachi and qualified for the next round too, with very limited resources.
“There is a lot of football in Gwadar, but the Covid-19 pandemic is only like putting us, our players in a cage. We can’t practice, we can’t play, most of our players are fishermen, and we have grown up playing at the sea. But the truth is if there is life, there will be football too, however, for now, this is like putting us in a jail. We didn’t even have local tournaments in our area because of the pandemic, the federation is of course prioritising the elections and other official matters for now, but we are just praying for this pandemic to end,” the GPA squad member said.
“The Division B League is an opportunity for the players to shine, you see there is a lot of unemployment in Gwadar too, but just to get an opportunity to play makes a lot of difference. It gives us hope that there can be more for footballers, but generally the conditions right now are harsh, it is just that we win the matches in the league on our passion and fire.”
‘District footballers are hurting worst’
The GA Lal District Thatta team played the preliminary round in Division B League (Club Leg) with Maymar Sports, District Central, Azam Sports, District East, Korangi Baloch, District Malir, Maripur Baloch, District West and Haideri Baloch, District South.
The six teams were divided into two groups of three teams each. Top team from each group will clash in the final.
The winner of the league will qualify to play in the final round, which begins March 23 in Lahore, according to the PFF press release.
The Thatta-based team’s manager Sardar Shah, who gets his footballers primarily from Dhabeji, said that the suspension of the league meant that the players had no football to play and no work either as most of them are labourers. He added in the time of Covid-19 they were even turned away from grounds in Thatta to play by the police.
“We played the qualifying round, three matches with one walk-over and two wins. We played well, but my players work as labourers during the day and would play football in the same clothes they wear on job. We don’t even have kits, we either ask help from people to give us money for it, or we collect Rs100-150 each to buy the kit, but in the time of pandemic we have nowhere to go. There is a lot of football in Dhabeji, there is a lot of passion too. We have to be safe so we are refraining from training, but without football we are suffering.
“It has been two days that we have started to train again, you see we have no support, financial or otherwise, but still we want to take a chance, we want the league to start as soon as possible. We love our football, we are waiting for the time where we get treated fairly and get some help too,” concluded Shah.