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AFC Solidarity Cup withdrawal adds to Pakistan football woes

Updated September 21, 2016

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Pakistan football team players practice during a training session. — AFP/File
Pakistan football team players practice during a training session. — AFP/File

KARACHI: The faction of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) which was making the most noise about players suffering due to the conflict in the country’s football governing body acted in exactly the opposite way on Tuesday.

The group led by Faisal Saleh Hayat has denied the national players a chance for long-awaited international action when it withdrew the team from the inaugural AFC Solidarity Cup, set to be held in Malaysia in November.

“The AFC has acknowledged Pakistan’s withdrawal from the AFC Solidarity Cup 2016 and has informed the other participating Member Associations about this,” Asia’s football governing body told Dawn in a statement on Tuesday.

It drew a strong reaction from the players.

“They should’ve sent the team because we haven’t seen international action for a long time which has seen us fall badly in the FIFA rankings,” international midfielder Saddam Hussain told Dawn, referring to Pakistan going down to an all-time low of 194th place.

The national team has not taken to the pitch since crashing out in the first round of AFC’s marathon joint-qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the 2019 AFC Asian Cup following a 3-1 aggregate loss to Yemen in March last year, leaving Pakistan without competitive matches for the next four years.


Hayat faction refuses to send team, PFF Administrator keen on participation


The PFF has been mired in crisis ever since it split into two factions in the lead-up to its presidential elections in June last year after a full-blown dispute over the controversial Punjab Football Association (PFA) elections in April.

With the two groups — one led by incumbent president Hayat and the other by contender and vice-president Zahir Ali Shah — heading into the polls, it saw the Lahore High Court (LHC) intervene and order a stay on the elections.

The Hayat group however went on to hold the elections and that has resulted in a drawn-out battle against the honourable court which appointed retired Justice Asad Munir as PFF Administrator till the issue is resolved and also asked him to hold fresh polls.

FIFA, meanwhile, backed Hayat and gave him two years to amend the PFF statutes and conduct fresh elections in September last year.

Since then, Pakistan has also missed out on the SAFF Suzuki Cup — South Asia’s showpiece tournament — where the Hayat faction refused to work with the PFF Administrator to send the team.

A spokesperson for the Hayat faction indicated that once again they did not want to work with Munir, who being recognised by the local authorities is the only one who can request no-objection certificates for the travelling team.

“It is extremely disturbing for the football players and the lovers of the beautiful game,” the spokesperson told Dawn without elaborating further while acknowledging that the “matter is in court”.

Earlier this month, Pakistan were drawn into Group ‘A’ alongside Nepal, Brunei Darussalam and two more teams — which were to be later decided — in the first edition of the Solidarity Cup for “countries that will not feature in the later stages of the AFC World Cup qualification, or the Asian Cup qualification and who have little opportunity to organise international friendly matches”.

The tournament was to feature eight or nine teams but with Pakistan’s withdrawal, now will be contested by seven to eight teams.

The Hayat faction, had informed the AFC about its decision on Saturday with a letter from the Asian body, seen by Dawn, confirming the team’s withdrawal on Monday.

The PFF Administrator, however, is planning to write to the AFC that Pakistan had not withdrawn from the tournament, well-placed sources told Dawn.

“We don’t want to miss this opportunity as the football team has already been at a loss for the last year and a half,” the source told Dawn.

“The Administrator has given his blessings to the All Pakistan Challenge Cup [which kicks off from Sunday in Peshawar and sees major departments taking part] and it will help in short-listing the national team.”

It is however very unlikely that the AFC will accept a team which is sent by the PFF Administrator since it recognises Hayat.

And it is potentially time for the players to raise their voice.

Former Pakistan captain Mohammed Essa, claiming he is impartial to any PFF faction despite several reports that he’s siding with the Hayat faction, launched a players association two weeks ago declaring the immediate aim was to see Pakistan make most of the opportunity offered by the Solidarity Cup.

Now, Essa and his aides have to show how serious they are in “protecting the players’ rights”.

Published in Dawn September 21st, 2016