KARACHI: It was only appropriate that Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) didn’t end up winning the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL). It seemed justice prevailed after all. And what better than justice prevailing on the football pitch?

Needing victory against Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) in the final league match of the season here at the KPT Stadium on Sunday to pip both their opponents and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) to the title, SSGC were schooled 4-0 by KRL, who ended up winning the PPFL for a record fifth time.

Just that KRL’s title triumph wouldn’t be recognised by world’s football governing body FIFA or the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Unlike in their previous title wins, KRL wouldn’t be able to take part in AFC competitions as champions of Pakistan.

That had already been decided earlier, in November when Dawn revealed that there was no slot for the Pakistan champions in the coming season of the AFC Cup —Asia’s second-tier club competition — since there was no team that fulfilled AFC’s club-licensing criteria.

Since then, the league’s organisation has changed hands, going from the FIFA-recognised Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) of Faisal Saleh Hayat to the one not recognised by the global football body, led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah who was elected PFF president in an election ordered by the Supreme Court last month.

Barring any change to their current stance, Dawn understands, FIFA wouldn’t recognise KRL as the Pakistan champions. The Hayat group ended the league, making final payments and forcing the referees’ association to boycott the remaining matches, when it relinquished control of its headquarters to the Ashfaq-led body at the turn of this year.

Nevertheless, when the curtain fell on the latest edition of the PPFL — the first in three years due to off-the-pitch turmoil in the PFF — there was a sense that some of the wrongs of the former officials had been rectified.

Umer Zia, PFF’s competitions manager, who worked with the former regime before being sacked and then returning to his post when the new officials were elected, was in his post when four teams including SSGC were controversially promoted via a one-match promotion playoff at the start of the season. It was a contravention of FIFA and AFC statutes regarding promotion and relegation of teams.

Over the last two days, Umer has been claiming that the manner of promotion was wrong and he and PFF director competitions Sajjad Mehmood, who was sacked at the same time as Umer, were powerless to do anything.

Sajjad’s presence in the PFF role was also a conflict of interest since he is also KRL’s head-coach yet the Hayat faction let him stay until of course differences developed and he was forced to resign,

Adding to the controversy, one of the promoted teams Ashraf Sugar Mills (ASM) left the league midway citing the expenses of playing in the country’s top-tier were too much.

SSGC coach Tariq Lutfi, in the meantime, had claimed his move of appealing for his team to be given a chance in the top-tier was due to the quality of the squad he had under him.

With football virtually suspended in the country due to a legal battle in the PFF since 2015, SSGC capitalised by signing top Pakistan national team players. Once Hayat was restored as PFF chief in March 2018, after a six-month ban by FIFA for third-party interference, the international players feared playing in the second division.

It was then Lutfi who pushed for his team to be included in the first-division, citing football had already suffered in the previous years. It was then the PFF decided to promote four teams via a single-match playoff, foregoing the second-division Pakistan Football Federation League (PFFL).

“They should’ve played the PFFL first before starting with the PPFL,” Umer told Dawn on Sunday, reflecting on what should’ve been.

Holding the PFFL is on the PFF’s agenda for now. But they’re facing a paucity of funding with the Hayat group leaving them with no money in the PFF coffers.

Ashfaq’s group claim that the Hayat faction illegally returned the funding from FIFA and AFC, disobeying the orders of the Supreme Court which had asked the Hayat group to give every detail of their financial transactions when it ordered fresh elections and put him back in office.

Hayat’s group was reminded it will have to give an account for their finances by Federal Minister for Inter Provincial Coordination (IPC) Fehmida Mirza on Sunday.

“We will look into the financial malpractices in the PFF and other sports federations,” Fehmida, whose role as IPC minister also means she has to look after the affairs of the country’s sports sector, told reporters at the PPFL closing ceremony where she was the chief guest.

She also took a jibe at Hayat when asked that the country risked suspension for FIFA, which last month said that the Supreme Court-ordered election of the PFF was tantamount to “third-party interference”.

“He’s been in power since 2003 and look where we are as a football nation,” she said. “Our football needs to grow by leaps and bounds and hopefully the newly-elected officials standing with me here will ensure that and put the game on the right path.”

Some of the wrongs had been done right moments earlier when in front of a packed house KRL ensured a team that had been controversially-promoted didn’t take the title.

KRL needed to win by four goals to clinch the title ahead of PAF and they did exactly that. SSGC couldn’t get the win they needed.

Now, with a controversy-marred season behind them, the Ashfaq-led PFF needs to revamp the domestic game. The wrongs of the past have to be done right.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2019

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