National Women’s Football Championship set to kick off amid Covid cloud

Published March 9, 2021
FOOTBALL star Hajra Khan instructs young schoolgirls during the AFC Women’s Day activity at the KPT Stadium on Monday.—PFF
FOOTBALL star Hajra Khan instructs young schoolgirls during the AFC Women’s Day activity at the KPT Stadium on Monday.—PFF

KARACHI: About 50 schoolgirls took part in drills here at the KPT Stadium on Monday as part of the celebrations for the AFC Women’s Football Day.

Pakistan women’s football superstar Hajra Khan was there, training the young girls, with an aim to inspire them to take up the game on International Women’s Day.

On Tuesday, the action will begin with the National Women’s Football Championship kicking off with four matches across two stadiums.

But the 19-team tournament begins in the backdrop of cricket’s Pakistan Super League (PSL) being postponed last week due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the bio-secure bubble created for teams and officials.

There is no such bubble for the teams of the Women’s Championship. Covid-19 tests on the participants haven’t been conducted too even though the latest edition has four foreign players taking part.

The PFF Normalisation Committee, however, has issued some protocols that include mandatory wearing of masks in the dugout, temperature screening and a ban on handshakes and team scrums.

With local restrictions having eased up, the four Nepal players signed up by upstarts Masha United haven’t been required to complete a quarantine period nor have they been tested upon their arrival although at the news conference on Monday the club — taking part in its first women’s championship — was adamant it had taken all precautions.

“The players returned negative tests while they were in Nepal and were also given the Covid vaccine,” Masha United head coach Nasir Ismail said. “We have taken all the precautions necessary to prevent the spread of Covid.”

PFF technical director Dani Limones told Dawn that mandatory Covid-19 testing wasn’t needed.

“It wasn’t mandatory for us have testing done,” Limones said after the managers’ meeting at the KPT Stadium on Monday. “We are hopeful that if the teams follow the protocols, then we can proceed safely with the football.”

There is however a provision for the tournament to be put on hold if a player is to test it positive for Covid.

“In case of a positive case, we will decide if we need to put the tournament on hold for a few days and then see if it’s safe to resume,” Limones informed.

Initially slated to be a 20-team tournament, the championship was reduced to 19 teams after Lahore’s Model Town Football Academy pulled out due to differences over the grants allocated to participating teams.

Teams from Group ‘A’ and ‘B’ will feature on the tournament’s opening day.

In Group ‘A’ Wapda will take on Gilgit Women’s FC and Hazara Quetta Football Academy will lock horns with Hazara Girls Football Academy in simultaneous kick-offs at the KPT Stadium and the KMC Stadium respectively in the morning.

In the afternoon kick-offs, last year’s finalists Karachi United face Karachi Women’s FC while Masha take on Sialkot Women’s FC in Group ‘B’.

Defending champions Pakistan Army will begin their campaign in Group ‘C’ against JAFA Soccer Academy on Wednesday.

The top two teams from each of the four groups advance to the quarter-finals state with the PFF adding a subsidiary development stage competition for those teams who fail to fining among the top two.

The third-placed teams will advance to the semi-finals of the development stage competition where they will await the winners of the matches between the fourth- and fifth-placed sides.

The tournament is scheduled to conclude with the final at the KMC Stadium on April 2 but going by the surge in Covid cases in the country and the fact that a biosecure PSL was hit by the virus, a high level of precautions will need to be exercised if that date is to be met.

SADHANA REMOVED FROM NC

The tournament is the first organised by the PFF Normalisation Committee led by Haroon Malik, who was appointed chairman in January following the resignation of Humza Khan.

With Muneer Sadhana’s services terminated by FIFA last week, no official remains from the Normalisation Committee which was initially named by FIFA upon its appointment in September 2019.

Muneer had been interim chairman for a month following Humza’s departure and FIFA communicated the decision to relieve him of his duties in a letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn.

“After a successful handover to the newly composed PFF NC, the FIFA administration has decided to terminate and herewith terminates your mandate agreement with immediate effect,” said the letter.

The Normalisation Committee has a mandate till June 30, by which it has to hold a fair PFF election and ensure a smooth transition of power.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2021

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