KARACHI: Ayaz Butt is a thoroughly driven man. For the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) manager, however, the motivation driving him to win this season’s dispute-marred Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) is now gone.

Having acquired a taste for playing and winning games in Asian competitions when KRL won three successive PPFL titles from 2012 to 2014, Ayaz wanted to take his side to the AFC Cup —Asia’s second-tier club competition, the continent’s equivalent of Europe’s UEFA Europa League.

Almost halfway through the league his side is on track, with a three-point lead at the top. But winning the league wouldn’t see them through to the AFC Cup playoff round as Pakistan’s representatives. Next year’s AFC Cup has no slot for the Pakistani league winner.

“As there were no AFC-licensed clubs and no ongoing league there was no entry from Pakistan,” an AFC spokesperson told Dawn on Friday.

Reminded that the league was underway — beginning with a controversial playoff round in which four teams from the second-division Pakistan Football Federation League (PFFL) without the league having actually taken place; a contravention of both FIFA and AFC statutes regarding relegation and promotion — the spokesperson added that there was no way the country’s champion team could’ve participate without a license.

“There was a cutoff date on October 31 and we have already had the draw,” the spokesperson added. “But without a license they could not play anyway and the cut off for the license was the same date. Club licensing was introduced for all member associations in the last year for the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup.”

The baby steps that the PFF has taken so far regarding club licensing in a largely departmental PPFL is merely adding ‘FC’ or ‘football club’ to their names. “They’ve just shown us slides and done nothing to move forward,” a member of one of the teams, wishing to remain anonymous, told Dawn on Friday.

Teams have to fulfill a number of criteria in order to get a license to participate in the AFC Cup. Those multi-layered criteria are sporting, infrastructure, legal, financial and personnel and administrative.

The AFC, meanwhile, has yet to receive details from the PFF regarding the playoff round. The current edition of the PPFL was the first in three years, with the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) having been mired in crisis during a legal battle. The Supreme Court has since announced holding the PFF election next month and more wrangling is expected in the country’s football governing body.

Amid that power struggle, earlier this month, PFF’s director competitions Sajjad Mehmood resigned from his post. While he was in that post, there was a huge conflict of interest in the league as Sajjad is also the head coach of KRL. Ayaz had sounded the PFF of the potential conflict of interest when the league was starting but they said they had no objection.

“I resigned because almost all the tournaments were over and there was nothing left,” Sajjad told Dawn last week. Sources close to the matter and to Sajjad, however, told Dawn otherwise, saying he was forced to hand in his resignation as the PFF didn’t want him in the job and wanted to replace him with Khokar.

The promotion of the four teams came under Sajjad and he claimed it was because football “had suffered a lot in the three years in which the PFF was involved in the legal battle”.

The move wasn’t welcomed by many though. Dawn has seen a letter by Karachi Port Trust (KPT) sports manager retired Lt Col Baseer Alam in which he protested the decision and asked the PFF to justify their action.

World’s football body FIFA also hasn’t endorsed the move the promote four teams even though those teams are shown on its website in the PPFL section. “The results of football leagues around the world, including the Pakistan Premier Football League, are published on FIFA.com,” a FIFA spokesperson told Dawn last month. “However, we haven’t received an official communication related to the playoff promotion mode.”

The draws for next season’s AFC Cup were held in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday with the winner of the South Asian playoff drawn in Group ‘E’.

Pakistan’s champion team would’ve entered the tournament in its qualifying playoff — like K-Electric did when they won the PPFL in 2015 — but it sees Sri Lanka’s Colombo and Bhutan’s Transport United fight it out in the preliminary round for the chance to play India’s Chennayin FC for a spot in the AFC Cup group stage.

KRL, meanwhile, took part in the AFC President’s Cup in each of the seasons they won the PPFL. The now-discontinued President’s Cup was Asia’s third-tier tournament and KRL reached the final in the 2013 edition — an event that inspired Ayaz’s desire to win an Asian title.

“This is shocking news for me,” he told Dawn on Friday, when informed that the PPFL champion won’t be playing in the AFC Cup. “We’re spending so much money for that one goal. This is just not right on so many levels and the PFF should’ve informed us of this beforehand.”

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2018

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