by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: Nine days since an explosive news conference in Lahore where evidence was presented of the rampant manipulation and perversion in the working of the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee, there has been nothing but silence from FIFA.
And it’s a deafening one.
During that time, the FIFA Congress which met last week, ratified the suspension on Pakistan which was placed in April after a group of officials led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah seized control of the PFF headquarters from the Haroon Malik-led NC. The ban will last until the PFF headquarters are vacated.
Asfhaq’s group of officials. who came to power after a PFF election held by the Supreme Court in December 2018 which was not recognised by FIFA, held the news conference two days before the ratification of the ban was due.
After the FIFA Congress, Haroon claimed that the PFF NC’s “positive steps” saw Pakistan avoid further sanctions. He did not clarify when asked by Dawn about the possible sanctions.
It was indeed a stunning claim from Haroon, especially coming after the news conference a couple of days earlier in which recordings of PFF NC member Haris Azmat and finance director Adnan Us-Sadiq were played by the Ashfaq group.
The other recordings centred on a planning and plotting by former NC members and officials in alliance with outside influences against Haroon’s predecessor Humza Khan, who resigned as PFF NC chairman in December last year.
FIFA had been asked for comment after the news conference in which Ashfaq said that a formal complaint had been made to the global football body, after the FIFA Congress on the possible sanctions mentioned by Haroon, and earlier this week on Haris’ recording in which he’s being trained on how to look as neutral as possible during his interview for the NC.
On Thursday night, came a terse reply.
“The Pakistan Football Federation is currently suspended,” a FIFA spokesperson told Dawn. “FIFA has no further comment at this stage.”
The reply was at odds with what FIFA has done in the past, since the appointment of the PFF NC in September 2019, when it immediately leapt to the defence of its appointed committee whenever it was faced with criticism or protests.
This time it said nothing; the tone of its statement in stark contrast to that of Haroon, who spoke with Dawn in the early hours of Thursday.“Most of the things that have come out in the recordings are related to the previous PFF NC setup,” Haroon, who was appointed chairman in January, said.
“The PFF NC continues to work on ensuring a free and fair election,” he continued, informing that testing for the rollout of the FIFA Connect Programme continues.
Haroon aims to conduct club scrutiny — the first step towards the election — through the FIFA Connect Programme which will allocate a unique identification to each club and its players.
“However, the rollout of the FIFA Connect will only begin once the PFF headquarters is back in control of the PFF NC and the suspension is lifted,” Haroon added. “And for that, I’m hoping the government, the Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination and the Pakistan Sports Board plays a positive role.”
Prime Minister Imran Khan met with IPC minister Dr Fehmida Mirza on Thursday to discuss matters relating to FIFA and on steps to raise the profile of the game in the country, as per a post on his Facebook page.
Since the ban on Pakistan, Fehmida has been meeting officials from the three factions jostling for control of the PFF.
“It was a short meeting where I informed the Prime Minister about the discussions I’ve held with the stakeholders,” Fehmida told Dawn on Thursday night. “A detailed meeting and dialogue will follow in the coming days in which the Prime Minster will look at how we can resolve the situation.”
Fehmida informed she had followed the press conference by the Ashfaq group and she “will speak to them again”.
She again stressed that at this point in time, she was hoping that FIFA could send a fact-finding mission to Pakistan.
FIFA hasn’t opened diplomatic channels with the IPC ministry and when asked if the Prime Minister was considering to himself open dialogue with the world’s football governing body, Fehmida said it was too early.
“For now, the Prime Minister has entrusted me to independently hold talks with the stakeholders,” she said. “Any decision of the Prime Minister, whether or not he would be open to starting dialogue with FIFA, will come after the detailed meeting.”
FIFA appointed the PFF NC after years of conflict and controversy in the country’s football governing body. It initially gave the PFF NC a nine-month mandate, which was extended to the end of last year following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Upon Haroon’s announcement and subsequent revamping of the PFF NC, FIFA publically gave a mandate till June 30 this year to the committee to hold fresh elections but Dawn exclusively revealed that privately the mandate was at least until December 2022 with the new NC chairman given unprecedented powers.
The delay in elections had irked all groups, especially the Ashfaq group which had handed over control of the PFF headquarters to the NC when it was initially appointed.
The PFF of Ashfaq on Friday announced that it will hold a meeting of its executive committee on Saturday.
“The officials of the standing committees will be named, along with the approval of the budget and the activity calendar,” it said in a news release. “Steps will also be taken regarding the elections of the next term from 2022-2026.”
The question remains how long this stalemate will continue. If it is to end, FIFA will have to break its silence. FIFA probably needs to begin another round of talks, like it’s done previously before the initial appointment of the NC, if it wants to put Pakistan football back on track.