Pakistan set for suspension as FIFA issues ultimatum to Ashfaq group

Published March 31, 2021
KARACHI United players stage a protest ahead of their National Women’s Football Championship match against Pakistan Army at the KPT Stadium on Tuesday.—courtesy Karachi United
KARACHI United players stage a protest ahead of their National Women’s Football Championship match against Pakistan Army at the KPT Stadium on Tuesday.—courtesy Karachi United

KARACHI: Only a dramatic change of mood from the Ashfaq Hussain Shah-led group of football officials can prevent Pakistan from being suspended by FIFA for the second time in four years.

The world’s football governing body on Tuesday issued a stern warning to the Ashfaq group, demanding them to hand back the Pakistan Football Federation headquarters to the PFF Normalisation Committee or else the country faces a suspension.

Ashfaq, who became president during an election of the PFF conducted on the orders of the Supreme Court in December 2018 which was not recognised by FIFA, and his fellow congress members had stormed the PFF headquarters on Saturday and seized its control from the FIFA-appointed PFF NC led by Haroon Malik.

Ashfaq struck a defiant note when asked by Dawn on Tuesday whether the looming suspension had prompted a change of heart.

“There is no way we are going to hand over the PFF headquarters back to the PFF NC, which since its appointment in September 2019 has done nothing to extricate Pakistan football from its long-running crisis,” he said, negating reports that his group of officials were in discussion over some terms and conditions with the PFF NC to hand back the PFF headquarters to it.

Ashfaq and his group have until 8:00pm Pakistan Standard Time on Wednesday to change their mind. They contest that the PFF NC has been unable to deliver the PFF elections during its 18-month tenure.

FIFA appointed the PFF NC nearly four years after a controversial election of the PFF had thrown Pakistan football into turmoil. During that time, Pakistan was also suspended for a six-month period from October 2017 to March 2018 for a court-appointed administrator taking over the PFF headquarters from then president Faisal Saleh Hayat.

Upon its appointment, the PFF NC was chaired by Humza Khan who resigned in December last year and was replaced by Haroon in January as FIFA changed all members of the committee it initially appointed.

FIFA said that the forced takeover of the PFF headquarters from the NC was a hindrance in its working.

“Both FIFA and the AFC [Asian Football Confederation] strongly condemn the incidents that have taken place at the headquarters of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) in Lahore, in which PFF staff had to be evacuated after the offices were stormed by a group of protestors,” a FIFA spokesperson told Dawn. “As per the decision of the Bureau of the FIFA Council, the normalisation committee is the sole entity recognised by FIFA, and has been appointed to manage the activities of the PFF until 30 June 2021 as per its current mandate. This latest incident has regretfully caused severe disruption in the ability of the normalisation committee to deliver their mandate.

“FIFA and the AFC demand that the parties that have occupied the PFF headquarters immediately hand back the premises to the normalisation committee or the matter will be referred to the Bureau of the FIFA Council, the consequences of which may include suspension of the PFF as per FIFA statutes.”

The 8:00pm deadline on Wednesday was mentioned in a letter FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura wrote to Haroon, who was asked to communicate it to the ‘concerned parties’ i.e. the Ashfaq group.

“Should the illegitimate occupation of the PFF headquarters not be lifted and the office bearers recognised by FIFA not be permitted free access to the building by Wednesday 31 March 2021 at 20.00 (Lahore time) at the latest, in order for them to carry out their mandate as instructed by FIFA, the matter shall be immediately submitted to the Bureau of the Council for Decision, which might include the suspension of PFF on the basis of art.16 par.1 of the FIFA Statutes,” the letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn said.

Upon taking over the PFF headquarters, the Ashfaq group had written to FIFA, saying that they were taking back control since the PFF NC had been unable to “immediately announce the PFF election schedules”.

Haroon reiterated, while talking to Dawn on Tuesday that the PFF NC was working on delivering an election roadmap by April and asked the football officials for patience as he was keen on holding a fair election.

WOMEN PLAYERS PROTEST

With the PFF headquarters taken over by the Ashfaq group, the PFF NC announced the cancellation of the National Women’s Football Championship which was in its quarter-final stage.

The Ashfaq’s group, though, announced it was going to continue the tournament and as it resumed under the new organising committee on Tuesday, it was marked by protests from both players and clubs.

Diya FC, the country’s oldest women’s football club, withdrew from their quarter-final against Masha United with the team’s founder Sadia Sheikh claiming on the club’s Facebook page that they “follow laws laid down by FIFA, PFF NC and the AFC”.

Mohsen Gilani FC, who were in the development stage tournament for teams which finished below the top two in the group stage also pulled out.

Six players from Pakistan Army, Wapda and Karachi United, including Pakistan star Hajra Khan, withdrew from their teams saying it was “a stance against injustices that impact the football ecosystem within our country”.

Army and United played with the latter coming out on top and saying that they only played ‘under protest and for football reasons’.

“We do not support the recent actions taken against the NC,” United said in an Instagram post. “We are fully and respectfully supportive of following due process as per FIFA directives.”

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2021

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