KARACHI: The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) is going back to the future.
In taking that step, however, it hasn’t notified either world’s football governing body FIFA or the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
The move to organise playoffs for 10 departmental teams to decide four teams to be promoted to the upcoming Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) season potentially breaches an article of the FIFA and AFC Statutes.
In a letter, seen by Dawn, sent by the PFF last week to the concerned departments, it invited them for playoff matches at the Punjab Stadium in Lahore from September 16 to 20.
“This step has been taken by the PFF on the instruction of president PFF to provide maximum opportunity to young players and teams to participate in the PPFL 2018,” it adds.
Such a tournament — organised all of a sudden and giving teams a chance to earn promotion to the PPFL — however is in contravention to Article 9.1 of the FIFA Statutes and Article 7.1 of the AFC Statutes.
Matches for 10 teams to decide four top-tier teams potential breach of FIFA and AFC Statutes
“A club’s entitlement to take part in a domestic league championship shall depend principally on sporting merit,” it states. “A club shall qualify for a domestic league championship by remaining in a certain division or by being promoted or relegated to another at the end of a season.”
‘End of a season’ seems to be the keyword here.
The PPFL or the second-tier Pakistan Football Federation League (PFFL) hasn’t been held since 2015 after off-field turmoil following a dispute that broke inside the PFF in the run-up to its presidential election.
In its last edition of the PFFL, the two promoted teams were Pakistan Navy and Baloch Nushki FC.
The PFF was also banned by FIFA during that time for ‘third-party interference’ but the PPFL is set to resume later this month after PFF president Faisal Saleh Hayat was handed back the headquarters of the country’s football governing body in March by the Supreme Court.
However, it remains open to question how a playoff tournament — not at the end of a regular season — can be used to decide four promoted teams.
“We have not been officially informed about the said matter and therefore are not in a position to comment,” a FIFA spokesperson told Dawn on Tuesday.
FIFA was asked on Thursday if it had received any update from the PFF regarding the tournament but there was no response till the filing of this report.
The AFC had a similar stance. “We are awaiting details of this competition which appears to be a pre-cursor to the League starting and until we have those details we cannot comment,” an AFC spokesperson told Dawn.
Dawn understands that both FIFA and AFC are looking keenly into this matter.
Around the world, playoffs are used at the end of the season to decide promotions and relegations as well as league champions but the tournament that the PFF is organising seems unheard of.
PFF’s move will see the PPFL return to being a 16-team league again, five years after it had itself reduced it to being a 12-team event.
Then in 2013, the PFF had claimed that it had taken the decision in light of FIFA’s instructions following a visit from a delegation of the world body which advised it to make the PPFL more qualitative.
This is the latest of strange footballing decisions taken by the PFF since it regained power, having earlier organised the National Challenge Cup whose format was panned by the participating teams.
PFF’s director competitions Sajjad Mahmood did not respond to repeated attempts by Dawn asking for comment regarding the promotion playoffs.
Dawn however has learnt of a quirky selection procedure for the playoff teams.
The PFF has selected the four highest second-division teams of the Challenge Cup, including Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL), Civil Aviation Autority (CAA) Ashraf Sugar Mills (ASM) and Asia Ghee Mills (AGM), and the six top departmental finishers in the 2015 PFFL apart from already-promoted Navy namely Gwadar Port Authority (GPA), Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC), Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL), Pak-Afghan Clearing Agency (PACA), Pakistan Television (PTV) and Higher Education Commission (HEC).
Second-division clubs, however, haven’t been included and some of them are crying foul-play, claiming that the departments are being included since Hayat has to hold and contest the PFF presidential election which is long due since the mandate given to him by FIFA has expired.
“Two of the departmental teams included have only be recently-formed including the PPL and CAA,” a member of one of the clubs, wishing to remain anonymous, told Dawn. “Such a tournament does nothing but raises doubts.”
In expanding the PPFL, however, the PFF can draw on Article 9.2 of FIFA Statutes and Article 7.2 of the AFC Statutes which allows for other considerations when deciding on participation in domestic leagues.
“In addition to qualification on sporting merit, a club’s participation in a domestic league championship may be subject to other criteria within the scope of the licensing procedure, whereby the emphasis is on sporting, infrastructural, administrative, legal and financial considerations,” it says. “Licensing decisions must be able to be examined by the member association’s body of appeal.”
In a league in which departments instead of clubs participate, there is no club licensing procedure in place at the moment.
As far as sporting reasons are concerned, only five years ago the PFF reduced the number of teams to increase quality of the PPFL.
Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2018