KARACHI: It was an association that lasted just five months.

The South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) and the West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) are going their separate ways.

That after SAFF announced on Tuesday that it is pulling out of the South West Asian Football Federation (SWAFF) — the regional football body formed after extensive lobbying by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation in May — after it met on the sidelines of Wednesday’s AFC Congress in Kuala Lumpur.

“The SAFF comprising Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan unanimously decided to pull out of the SWAFF with immediate effect on Tuesday, 30 October 2018, in a meeting held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,” the body said in a statement.

“The withdrawal precedes the expected official recognition of AFC’s five Regional Federations by the AFC Congress on Wednesday, 31 October 2018.”

The AFC and SWAFF had already agreed earlier that the new body wouldn’t interfere with the existing division of the Asian zones but the SAFF split comes at a crucial time. The AFC elections are due next year where incumbent Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa is being challenged by SWAFF president Dr Adel Ezzat, the former Saudi football chief.

STATUTES AMENDMENT

The move also comes a day before the AFC goes for an important vote in its Congress regarding the amendment of one of its statutes that required candidates running for the position of president be nominated by the member association they represent.

Sources close to the matter have told Dawn that while Sheikh Salman wanted to change that clause, the Saudis weren’t in favour of amending it. With the 12-member SWAFF on their side, they had the controlling power if it went to a vote. A 3/4th majority from AFC’s 47 members is required to make the amendment.

The change will effectively allow Sheikh Salman to contest the AFC election without the need for nomination from the Bahrain Football Association (BFA), which is part of the SWAFF.

PFF IN LIMBO?

Well-placed sources also disclosed that the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) was the last to accept SAFF’s decision to withdraw from SWAFF with its president Faisal Saleh Hayat the last to be convinced that the move was the right one.

Rumours have been abound that Hayat had decided to back Ezzat in the AFC election after they met in Jeddah in August. Ezzat had nominated Hayat for the senior vice-president position in SWAFF, which he lost out to Maldives’ Mohammed Shaweed in an election.

The PFF had also welcomed the formation of SWAFF openly with its vice-president Sardar Naveed Haider Khan saying he hoped the funding from the new body would boost football in Pakistan.

Now, though, the situation has changed.

PAK-SAUDI RELATIONS

PFF’s move to withdraw from SWAFF could also impact the Pakistan-Saudi Arabian relations.

Gaining an influential position in global football is one of the key components in the kingdom’s plans of modernising its society and boosting its economy.

“SWAFF is the centre-piece for those plans and the Saudi government would’ve wanted Pakistan’s support in boosting the regional body,” the source said.

This month, the Saudi government sanctioned a $6billion bailout package for Pakistan to help the latter stave off its current financial crisis.

Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2018