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KARACHI: The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) on Friday did not confirm that it had officially joined the South West Asian Football Federation (SWAFF), a day after the new body was formed after a meeting in Saudi Arabia.

“Officially we haven’t joined it,” an official of the PFF told Dawn on the condition of anonymity.

The denial came despite two PFF members — Punjab Football Association (PFA) president Sardar Naveed Haider Khan and Dr Fazal Ur Rehman — attending the meeting in Jeddah on Thursday. Both were seen in the picture that has been widely shared on social media and on Arabic news websites announcing the news.

Dawn tried to contact Sardar Naveed regarding his presence at the meeting but his phone was switched off while he wasn’t accessible through internet-calling platforms as well.

The SWAFF seems to be a merger of the West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) and the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF).

The head of the new body will be Saudi Arabian Football Federation president Adel bin Mohammad Ezzat.

“The South West Asian Association aims to develop the sport in Asia and hold many tournaments and events on an annual basis,” the SWAFF said in a news release in Arabic, carried by Saudi sports newspaper Arriyadiyah.

“It includes the West Asian Association, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.”

“The 10 federations announced the selection of Turki Al Al-Sheikh [head of Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority] as honorary president of the federation, which will launch a series of programs and competitions aimed at raising the level of Asian football.

“The Federation confirmed that it will work with all similar unions to be of good help to the continental union in the professional football industry.”

However, not all the SAFF and WAFF nations have joined the SWAFF. Nepal, Bhutan, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Qatar are not part of the new body.

It has been rumoured that the new body has been formed because of the Saudi-Qatar political conflict and to undermine the status of both Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa and former FIFA vice-president and Jordan Football Association chief Prince Ali bin Al-Hussain.

Prince Ali had opposed moving the WAFF headquarters from Jordan to Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan has traditionally enjoyed close relations with Sheikh Salman of Bahrain since he was elected AFC president in 2013.

The Bahrain Football Association (BFA) has provided the PFF with the salaries for coaches Mohammed Al Shamlan, who was at the helm of Pakistan football team from 2013 to 2015 and recently-hired Jose Antonio Nogueira.

Turki has over the last few years emerged as a major power-player in Asian sport. Many believe the 36-year-old harbours ambitions of being the AFC chief and subsequently the FIFA president.

It remains to be seen what the amalgamation of SAFF and WAFF does to events of the South Asian region. Pakistan was due to host the SAFF Suzuki Cup in 2020 with this year’s edition to be played in Bangladesh.

Dawn contacted SAFF president Kazi Salahuddin, who was also at the meeting in Saudi Arabia, regarding the status of the events but he did not respond till the filing of this report.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2018