by Azeem Siddiqui
Football in Pakistan is going through one of its darkest periods after the Pakistan Football Federation’s headquarters was attacked and taken over on Saturday by a group led by Ashfaq Shah.
At around 1900 hrs on March 27, 2021, a message appeared from one of the spokesmen on the PFF’s WhatsApp group that the headquarters in Lahore was attacked by ‘Ashfaq Shah and his group’ and that they have taken control of the building.
A few hours later, it was also announced that the ongoing 2021 National Women’s Football Championship ‘has been cancelled’.
Following those events, athletes as well supporters of football in Pakistan are fearing the worst and many of them are expecting tough sanctions from the game’s governing body: FIFA.
SAMAA Digital contacted head of the Normalisation Committee Malik Haroon to ask about the reasons that led to these unprecedented events that have shocked the football fraternity in Pakistan.
SAMAA Sports: When did you take charge of the PFF?
Malik Haroon: I took charge of the office on January 20, 2021 as the head of Normalisation Committee. What happened during the reign of Humza Khan (head of the NC from September 2019), he knows better but there was a caretaker to run daily activities from the time he resigned till the time I took charge and he reversed all the changes made since 2019. So we were back to ground zero again.
SAMAA Sports: What was your mandate from FIFA?
Malik Haroon: I had a five-pointer mandate from FIFA which included the continuation of day-to-day activities, registration of football clubs and the last two were about conducting free and fair elections in the Pakistan Football Federation.
From the last month, we have repeatedly informed the media that the electoral process will be revealed in April after which the candidates will be able to register themselves and the voting will be conducted after making FIFA Connect IDs.
SAMAA Sports: Had you met Ashfaq Shah before?
Malik Haroon: Yes, I had already met the people who were leading the attack and a hostile takeover of PFF House on Saturday.
SAMAA Sports: Did they have any reservations with the way you were running PFF?
Malik Haroon: Yes. They had two major reservations with the way I was dealing with things. The first was about why I decided to spend Rs25 million on a tournament for Women’s Football. They believe that payment is unjustified.
I told them the amount being invested in girls football is extremely low and these athletes deserve better. If you break down the expenses, these girls are living in Karachi at a daily expense of Rs613. I am sure most of us have a far more expensive cup of tea than that.
Secondly, they wanted me to conduct the elections based on registrations that took place in 2015. I looked in detail as to why there is so much emphasis on conducting elections in such a manner. There, I found out that the whole process looked flawed. The province where football is the most popular sport—Balochistan—only had 16 of the 33 districts registered.
Under the laws of 2015, it was so easy to become the head of a district which then empowers those same individuals to make a call on club registration based on nepotism.
Those kinds of laws should not be acceptable and I told them that the next elections will not be going to take place with such a flawed system.
SAMAA Sports: What happened on Saturday, March 27, 2021?
Malik Haroon: On that day, a group led by Ashfaq stormed into my room. I took them out and we sat in a conference room. I asked them what is the problem and they said that I should hand over charge and leave. I told them that it does not work like this. FIFA will not approve them. They responded that they did not care. You give us the bank account details and leave. We will take care of the matters with FIFA as well.
I was like, give me three to four days to figure out a way, and they were like, no, enough is enough. We have waited long enough. I came back to my room to call my lawyer but Ashfaq and his people entered my room and asked whether I was going to do what they are asking me or not.
I again tried to have a word with them and make them understand that FIFA will not allow this but in the meantime, more people entered my room and started harassing me.
SAMAA Sports: How did you leave the building?
Malik Haroon: I felt threatened for my life and that’s when I decided to take my bag and leave. I asked my finance director to come and leave with me but he said that people are already searching his room’s cabinets to figure out where the cheque books were.
When we decided to leave together, the Ashfaq Shah-led group physically stopped my finance director. They were also asking me to stop but I did not listen to them. I came down and saw the glass gate being chained up so no one could open it. Fortunately, there was a brick which we used to stop the gate from closing on itself. I used that to break the glass and leave the building premises.
SAMAA Sports: When did you call the police to handle the situation?
Malik Haroon: We called them at the first instance when they [Ashfaq Shah-led group] harassed one of our employees. Once I left the building, my lawyers and the police helped us in getting all the employees out of the building safely. The whole process took about two hours. But in the meantime, the protestors took away the laptop, tablets, even headphones of our employees.
SAMAA Sports: What kind of response are you expecting from FIFA?
Malik Haroon: I am expecting a strong statement from them in the coming days. We have already communicated to FIFA that it is our internal matter and we are trying to solve it locally because if we cannot convince the body about that, Pakistan football might face severe consequences. But I am sure FIFA will ban the individuals who are behind this unprecedented attack.
SAMAA Sports: Has anyone contacted you from the highest level?
Malik Haroon: Surprisingly, no one has contacted me or any of our staff members. Not from the Punjab government or the federal government. It is really sad.