KARACHI: FIFA has politely turned down a request by the Pakistan government to send a delegation to the country to discuss the situation of the game in the country. The global football body remains steadfast in its support of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee, which it appointed in September last year.

FIFA’s reaction to the government is understandable. For the last several months, there have been baseless accusations — without substantial proof — made by the various football officials against the PFF Normalisation Committee.

The government’s letter to FIFA seems to be sent on the behest of a group led by National Assembly member Malik Amir Dogar which has been accusing the Normalisation Committee of favouring another group, led by Zahir Shah, in the PFF elections which are to be conducted by the committee by the end of its mandate in December.

Those two groups, however, have since seemed to have formed an alliance — just like they did in December 2018 when they won an election of the PFF held on the orders of the Supreme Court. That election, which saw the formation of two parallel PFF bodies — the other led by Faisal Saleh Hayat and backed by FIFA, prompted football’s world governing body to appoint a Normalisation Committee in September last year to oversee sporting matters and conduct fresh polls.

“We can confirm that we received a letter from Pakistan’s government,” a FIFA spokesperson told Dawn on Monday. “In our answer submitted on 4 September, FIFA and the AFC confirmed their full support of the PFF Normalisation Committee, which has made important progress in key areas of its mandate. We further pointed out that the Covid-19 pandemic has significantly altered the ability of the committee to continue its work at the same speed.

“Furthermore, FIFA and the AFC asked Pakistan’s government to submit any additional information that they may deem necessary to share. Finally, FIFA also confirmed that due to travel restrictions and the health risks arising from the global pandemic, no FIFA delegation may currently be dispatched to Pakistan.”

For a significant part of the last decade, Pakistan football has been mired in crisis and controversy. Ever since FIFA sent a fact-finding mission for the first time in September 2015 to discuss matters with the stakeholders, there have been numerous requests to made to the Zurich-based body to send delegations.

There was a similar request made by Fehmida Mirza, the Federal Minister for Inter-provincial Coordination, in her letter which has been seen by Dawn. That letter was sent on August 20.

“In the past 10 months since the appointment of the NC members, the Government of Pakistan has received various complaints on the various steps taken and the decisions implemented by the NC,” the IPC minister wrote in the letter. “As per our reckoning, the most serious complain was that the NC was working within the parameters of its mandate. The NC has been endeavoring to support some selected candidates in the forthcoming elections and thus its neutrality has been compromised, which amounts to pre-election rigging.”

She went on to add that Prime Minister Imran Khan was “deeply concerned about the prevailing situation and has instructed me to approach you to ensure corrective measures for the restoration of football game in Pakistan” before asking FIFA to “depute senior personnel to visit Pakistan, in order to engage in critical dialogue with the relevant stakeholders”.

Mirza reiterated in the letter that the government hadn’t interfered in the matters of the PFF in the past and had facilitated FIFA in the appointment of the Normalisation Committee. FIFA has strict regulations against third-party interference in the affairs of its member associations and that saw PFF being banned for six months from October 2017 to March 2018.

That move has seen government remain wary of interfering in the matters of the PFF but its latest show of powerplay — trying to influence FIFA by writing a letter against the Normalisation Committee — has left it red-faced.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2020

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