by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: Calling it a ‘dark day for Pakistan football’ does not cut it. The hashtag #SavePakistanFootball” is a great gesture but very surface level. Calling it a dark day is fine, but everyone knew that it was looming close anyway. It was the result of a chain of events, propelled by the decisions made by some very weak men.
The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) headquarters were attacked on Saturday in Lahore and the staff that is a part of the Fifa-appointed Normalisation Committee (NC) was not only physically harassed, but their possessions were also taken. The PFF accounts were seized and the chief for the committee had to escape to save his life from a confrontation by the winning body members of the Supreme Court-ordered elections.
As a consequence, the ongoing Women’s Championship in Karachi had to be cancelled by the NC.
“Our girls are depressed, disturbed, and they keep asking me why is this happening,” Hazara Girls Academy Manghopir coach Ali Changezi expressed his disbelief to The Express Tribune. “I don’t know what to tell them. I’m scared that if Fifa bans football now, this would mean that my girls, who fought with their families just to play football, will have to see their future go to waste. They are just 14 years of age now, but a 10-year or a five-year ban would mean wasting their talent and youth. How do I explain it to them?”
Changezi’s team is a part of the National Women’s Football Championship line-up that had a Cinderella run, as they qualified for the quarter-finals with an all-under15 team on their maiden appearance at the championship.
Changezi and his players had to work through societal pressures, resistance and even family disapproval just to play football. But their qualifying to the quarterfinals at the championship changed the ways, and by Sunday he and his players were at a local seminar where the Hazara Community was appreciating and celebrating their achievement.
Changezi believes that the political tug of war between officials and rival factions is hurting his players like it is hurting footballers from across the country.
“All the women came to play in the championship but now we are just anxious about what will happen next. A ban will also put a really bad image for Pakistan. I saw this morning that women in Afghanistan can play football more easily than we can,” said Changezi. “This is disturbing, heart breaking and confusing.”
Changezi is not alone. National and international stars have expressed their grief, disbelief and had appeal for not pushing politics too far that it kills football. However, the situation is not unprecedented. It is the same old story.
The attacking group, led by Ashfaq Hussain, along with one of the most controversial officials from PFF’s previous administration Sardar Naveed Haider Khan are not recognised by Fifa.
They are also not very good at being ethical. In fact, the group that attacked says they “came to take control of the PFF as the rightful administration elected by Supreme Court-ordered elections”. This group is a part of the alliances that were formed to bring down the former PFF President Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat who had been in the office since 2003 and was then finally challenged by his own embittered colleagues in 2015, when he was going to get himself elected for the fourth term.
Throughout the years from 2015 till 2019the situation remained precarious. There had been suspension from October 2017 till March 2018. Then before that the Hayat group was keeping football hostage as the rivals kept the PFF headquarters with them in the supervision of the court appointed administrator Asad Munir, but throughout, it has been a show that is run by a few individuals.
Fifa had been too late to act, as they should have appointed a NC in 2015, but it has been the case of better late than never, but can also be considered too little, too late.
Anybody who followed the Pakistan football affairs closely enough can tell that it wasn’t a dark day, but rather it helped Pakistan save face from later embarrassment. Imagine something like this happening if Pakistan had sent any of the teams abroad, or were hosting friendlies.
However, Malik, who has the mandate till June to have fresh elections at all PFF levels and supervise the workings of the federation, said that his aim is to focus on the future and make sure that the individuals responsible for the attack are dealt with strictly by Fifa either through life ban or persona non grata declared against them.
Fifa can ban Pakistan over third-party interference, as it did before, but the attacking group do not care, and their statements reflect deep entitlement.
But as of Sunday evening, the national women championship participants have received notification from the Ashfaq Hussain-led group that the championship will go on, and they have their own organising body now, while the NC staff is left broken, shaken and uncertain of how violent any situation can get.
Malik had feared for his well-being, he told The Express Tribune. However, the NC is taking appropriate security measures and his priority is to make sure that Fifa does not ban Pakistan.
“We are in touch with Fifa,” said Malik. “My goal is to try and get to a resolution through talks locally and make sure that we do not get banned, because it hurts me the most that the footballers who were participating in the championship are now so disturbed because of all of this. Putting them through this is criminal,” said Malik who believes that football can change lives.