KARACHI: Pakistan’s football team is out of the race to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics without even kicking a ball as the long-running dispute in the football body reared its ugly head again.

Pakistan will not be taking part in Group ‘F’ of the 2020 AFC Under-23 Championship qualifiers, it was announced on Wednesday with the team withdrawn on the orders of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) group that is recognised by global football body FIFA.

The Supreme Court last year ordered fresh elections of the PFF, which were held in December and saw Syed Ashfaq Hussain Shah elected as the country’s football chief. Ashfaq however isn’t recognised by FIFA, which accepts Faisal Saleh Hayat as the PFF president and termed the election as “third-party interference”.

It is the latest event that Pakistan will miss out after sitting out several tournaments in the last three years due to the dispute that has plagued its football governing body.

Pakistan were due to play hosts Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and arch-rivals India from March 22 in the qualifiers for the tournament that is to be held in Thailand next year. The teams were drawn in 11 four-team groups with the group winners and the four best second-placed teams advancing to the tournament finals. The top three teams would qualify for the Olympics.

“Pakistan’s Olympic team has withdrawn from participation in the qualifiers for the 2020 AFC Under-23 Championship which will be held in Tashkent,” the Tajikistan Football Federation said in a tweet on Wednesday.

Ashfaq said his body wasn’t involved in the withdrawal.

“I wanted to ensure that we send out a team to play,” he told Dawn on Wednesday. “The Asian Football Confederation said they don’t recognise us so there was no chance we could’ve sent or withdrawn the team from the tournament.”

Pakistan’s withdrawal means that they will be fined at least US$20,000 for their withdrawal as it comes less than 30 days before their first match of the qualifiers. They also risk further sanctions from the AFC Disciplinary and Ethics Committee.

In wake of the newly-elected body taking over control from the Hayat-led group, both FIFA and the AFC suspended funding to the PFF.

During all this while Hayat has emerged as the sole candidate for the post of AFC’s vice-president from the South Asian region in the election scheduled for next month.

The current situation isn’t expected to change unless FIFA takes swift action into the Pakistan case.

Pakistan’s withdrawal means there would now be no clash with India in the midst of the political scenario that has developed between the two countries. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) had last week said that it will consult with its government before going ahead with the game.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2019