KARACHI: The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee has a task at hand. It’s something that isn’t in its mandate though. But if it does, it will provide an added incentive for teams taking part in the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL).

To complete the job, however, it will have to deal with the collective malaise that had set in the working of the country’s football governing body in the last few years when the previous regime was in-charge.

Overcome that, and maybe the FIFA-appointed PFF Normalisation Committee could guarantee Pakistan’s representation in the AFC Cup; the continent’s second-tier club competition.

The Asian Football Confed­eration recently announced the entry manual and slot allocation for its club competitions — the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup — in 2021 and 2022 with Pakistan given one indirect slot for the AFC Cup i.e. the representatives will have to go through the qualifying route to make the competition.

That, however, isn’t guaranteed as the PPFL teams found out in the 2018 season — the last time when the league was held. Then, midway through the season, Dawn exclusively revealed that the PPFL winner would not be getting a spot in the AFC Cup playoffs since there were no clubs that fulfilled the AFC’s licensing criteria and there was no entry sent by the PFF.

It’s likely to be the same scenario again despite Pakistan being given an indirect slot. Unless of course, the Humza Khan-led Normalisation Committee can achieve in six months what the Faisal Saleh Hayat-led PFF couldn’t in five years.

“The slots are allocated to Member Associations based on the AFC Club Competition ranking which ranks each Member Association based on its clubs’ sporting results in the AFC Club Competitions,” an AFC spokesperson told Dawn this week. “However to utilise those slots the MA will have to meet the following criteria i.e. Technical Standard, Club Licensing System, Sport Integrity, Organisation of Professional Football League, Stadia; and Logistics, Visa and Accommodation.”

It was in early 2014 that an AFC delegation visited Pakistan, presenting its demands to start the introduction of club licensing in the PPFL which since its inception in 2004 — at the start of Hayat’s near 16-year tenure as PFF chief — has largely seen departmental teams take part.

Several plans were drawn out then, with then-PFF secretary general Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi declaring that they were going to immediately launch a National Youth League Championship to see which departments could field youth teams — one of the requirements for club licensing.

That never saw the light of day. There were also plans presented in coming years which involved updating departments according to modern lines in terms of management, online presence and fan-base development. Those plans too never materialised.

What the PFF did achieve in doing, however, was adding ‘FC’ or ‘Football Club’ to end of the names of the departments. For example, Khan Research Laboratories has now become Khan Research Laboratories FC.

The officials tasked with implementing the club licensing regulations claim that four years of crisis and controversy in the PFF since 2015, which finally prompted FIFA to appoint a Normalisation Committee to oversee the country’s football matters, hampered the implementation of club licensing regulations.

However, that seems like an excuse since the Hayat-led PFF had the backing of FIFA and the AFC throughout those years and even if there were issues organising tournaments on ground, background work on club licensing could still have been carried out.

The PFF Normalisation Committee, appointed in September last year, has a primary mandate to hold fresh elections of the PFF till the end of this year. That, and the other part of its mandate that involves handling of day-to-day affairs and football activities, however, has been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

With the government having announced on Thursday that non-contact sports activities in the country can resume without fans as the virus situation gets better, there is a chance that the PPFL might be able to kick off by September; once contact sports are allowed.

But Dani Limones, the Spaniard appointed by the PFF Normalisation Committee as its technical director, thinks it’s too early to be talking about Pakistan’s potential representation in the AFC Cup next season.

“We have received instructions from the AFC about how to register teams for the AFC Cup,” Limones told Dawn on Friday. “But I don’t think we can do that because not only do we need to hold the league and have a champion but also we need to implement club licensing.”

The only Pakistani team to have featured in the AFC Cup playoffs have been 2014-15 PPFL champions K-Electric. Before that, PPFL champions used to take part in the AFC President’s Cup — the now-defunct third-tier continental club competition.

“Of course it would be great for Pakistan football if a place in continental competition was on offer for the winner of the PPFL,” added Limones. “But right now, it’s too difficult to implement club licensing in such a short time.”

Limones, however, hopes that he can set the tone for the implementation of club licensing regulations that could see Pakistan teams feature in the AFC Cup in the future.

“Nothing has been done regarding club licensing in Pakistan and we need to start from scratch,” added Limones, “but I’ll see what I can do during my tenure and hopefully our teams won’t miss out on continental club competitions in the future.”

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2020