‘It is a pity’: Footballers rue absence from SAFF [Express Tribune]

‘It is a pity’: Footballers rue absence from SAFF [Express Tribune]

by Natasha Raheel

KARACHI: Pakistan’s star Muhammad Riaz rues the fact that the country is missing the South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Championship that started in Maldives on October 1.

The 2018 semi-finalists Pakistan reached the last four for the first time since 2005, after the championship had its rebranding of sorts.

For the Hangu-based striker and midfielder, the opportunity missed by Pakistan yet again to compete in an international event is a painful experience.

“This is obviously bad, we are missing another international event,” Riaz told The Express Tribune from Hangu. “Saff Championship is like the World Cup for us, because we need to at least do well on the regional level. But now we are missing it and there is nothing we can do about it.

“I just hope that this suspension from Fifa gets over quickly so that we can play international football.”

Riaz had scored for the country and he misses the feeling of playing among other countries too, although he said he had kept himself busy with his new club, where he won matches in Peshawar League and Chitral League.

“Football is going great at least locally. I’m still playing, with new team, and I keep myself on the field. We had a great Peshawar League and then Chitral League. There is so much talent and football in Pakistan that I can’t miss the action. I miss the international action, yes, but we have lots of local tournaments too. Meanwhile, till we play international events, we have to make do with the leagues we have, this is all a lot of fun and motivation for me,” said the former K-Electric player.

The 25-year-old had also lost his job recently with his previous departmental team K-Electric that got shut down as the political turmoil within the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) has rotten the chances and careers of the footballers.

He now plays for SA Gardens team from Lahore.

He added that the recently announced private league in the country, which is headed by his former colleague and manager at K-E, Zabe Khan can be a good source of football, while being lucrative too.

“Any football activity is a good football activity. It is positive, especially if there are opportunities for players to earn good money and even go abroad,” said Riaz, who had just finished his gym session.

The youngster is spirited and positive about the local talent and he said he enjoys playing and organising tournaments for his home-club Hangu Union too.

Asked if he has any favourites for Saff Championship, although Pakistan is not playing, he said he needs to watch the first few matches to decide.

“I can’t pick any favourites, I haven’t even been on the social media too because it is just too much, we are not playing,” said Riaz.“It is sad and pitiful for us”

Meanwhile, SSGC midfielder and striker Saadullah Khan added that it is a pity that Pakistan is missing the tournament. Earlier the country missed out on it in 2015 due to the PFF political issues.

“I am very sad and it is pitiful that the Saff Suzuki Cup is starting and Pakistan is not a part of this big tournament,” Saadullah said. “The last time we qualified for the semi-finals was after 13 years.”

“We are very much missing this event and especially me because I played in the league in Maldives in 2015 and 2017. There are a lot of fans and friends. It is a pity and cruel people are playing with the future of the players. They’ve completely destroyed Pakistan football and the players will suffer the most in the coming era. The time is not far away when you will see players driving rickshaws in every province. Really miss the event as current Pakistan national football team player.”

Deadline for NC

The in-fighting between the officials have led to the Fifa ban twice now, with the last one coming in April as a result of Syed Ashfaq Hussain Shah group that came into power through the Supreme Court-ordered elections. Fifa did not recognize them so they forcefully took over the PFF headquarters on March 27 from the Fifa-appointed Normalisation Committee (NC), which has had numerous extensions since its appointment in 2019 September.

The NC was on Saturday given another three months extension till December 31 by FIFA after the last one ended on September 30.

The NC had been planning to have Pakistan national team for both men and women to compete in the international events this year, however, so far the suspension stays and no breakthrough have been made despite the involvement of the Pakistan Government through Dr Fahmida Mirza.

Fifa wants the NC to have full control of the PFF headquarters and funds, while Shah is refusing to evacuate the grounds. In fact his body has been hosting Afghan junior players who escaped from Taliban government last month, albeit they are being paid to host them through a UK-based foundation on humanitarian basis for at least three weeks.

“We have not received a further extension from Fifa yet, but we are extremely hopeful that we will carry on Fifa’s good mission in Pakistan,” NC member Shahid Khokhar had told The Express Tribune on September 30 as a reply to a query, if there is more leeway available for NC to go on, before Fifa takes some other action.

Earlier the extensions came when Humza Khan was the NC chief till he resigned in December last year, then Malik came in place with a promise to hold fair elections and have interim set-up perform their duties. He got the extension in June as well.

Shah did not reply to The Express Tribune when reached out for a comment on Saff and Afghan junior team.

Thrice before 2018, Pakistan reached the semi-finals of the Saff championship; the years were 2005, 2003 and 1997. Pakistan were also the hosts of the inaugural edition in 1993 and the event was then known as the 1993 South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation Gold Cup.

Published in The Express Tribune, 3 October 2021

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