ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister of Inter-provincial Coordination Fehmida Mirza addresses a media conference at the Press Information Department on Wednesday.—APP
ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister of Inter-provincial Coordination Fehmida Mirza addresses a media conference at the Press Information Department on Wednesday.—APP

KARACHI/LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: Shahid Khokkar stood outside the Pakistan Football Federation headquarters in Lahore on Wednesday, waiting for a decision. He waited and waited. And kept on waiting as the 8pm deadline passed.

Khokhar was the only member of the FIFA-appointed PFF Normalisation Committee there, waiting to report to chairman Haroon Malik whether the group of officials led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah was going to vacate the headquarters of the country’s football governing body which they had forcibly taken over on Saturday.

Ashfaq’s group refused and Khokhar left. Now Pakistan football is left waiting for when FIFA will announce sanctions.

FIFA on Tuesday had issued a strong-worded warning to the Ashfaq group that failure to hand back the PFF headquarters to the Normalisation Committee by 8pm on Wednesday could see Pakistan suspended for a second time in four years.

That warning, however, wasn’t heeded and just about half an hour after the deadline passed, a video was distributed which showed Ashfaq informing that the headquarters would not be handed over and instead demanded negotiations with FIFA.

“After several deliberations and meetings with members of my congress and the executive committee, we have decided that we will continue working from the PFF headquarters,” Ashfaq, who assumed presidency in an election of the PFF conducted by the Supreme Court in December 2018 which was not recognised by FIFA, said.

“When FIFA appointed the Normalisation Committee 18 months ago, we handed over the administrative charge of the PFF headquarters to it, hoping they would organise fair and transparent elections of the PFF and put football back on track but to date not a single step was taken towards that.

“They made a joke of our decision to hand over the office. Here we are, with the Normalisation Committee having been changed three times yet there is no election roadmap.”

FIFA appointed the PFF NC in September 2019; almost 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 with Munir Sadhana being appointed acting chairman. Haroon was named as the PFF NC chairman in January this year as FIFA changed all members of the committee it initially appointed.

During his time in charge, Sadhana had undone all the decisions taken by Humza, meaning Haroon and his committee had to start from scratch. Having been handed mandate till June 30 this year, Haroon announced earlier this month that he will give an election roadmap by April.

It was what seemingly prompted the Ashfaq group to take back administrative charge of the PFF headquarters, sensing that an election would not be held by the mandate given by FIFA.

Haroon termed Wednesday’s events as “unfortunate”.

“It’s a sad day really for Pakistan football,” he told Dawn. “It’s very unfortunate that the Ashfaq group had no regard for the future of the country’s footballers.”

A FIFA suspension would see Pakistan miss out on international events with only a federation recognised by the world’s football governing body able to send teams.

Ashfaq, however, seemed to have no qualms over not being recognised by FIFA. “We came into power through an election held by the Supreme Court and we are the legitimate stakeholders of football in the country,” he said in the video.

Wednesday’s events add to the long-running crisis that has afflicted Pakistan football since Hayat, who was PFF president since 2003, held a controversial election in 2015.

The PFF had split into two factions following those elections — one led by Hayat and the other by senior vice-president Zahir Ali Shah and two years later, FIFA banned Pakistan when the Lahore High Court had appointed an administrator to run PFF affairs.

Even though Hayat was reinstated as president, the Supreme Court had ordered that fresh elections of the PFF were to be conducted after the election of the Punjab Football Association (PFA), which had been the cause of the split in the PFF.

With his candidate Sardar Naveed Haider Khan winning the PFA poll conducted by the Supreme Court, Hayat had no issues over that result but there was fresh drama in the PFF elections.

In the lead-up to the election, Sardar deserted Hayat to join forces with Zahir and that saw Ashfaq elected as the PFF chief. Hayat, however, refused to accept the Supreme Court election, claiming it was interference in the affairs of the PFF.

It prompted FIFA to appoint the NC, after which Zahir and Ashfaq, backed by Sardar and Amir Dogar, also went their separate ways meaning there are now three groups vying for control of the PFF.

Zahir appealed on Wednesday for Prime Minister Imran Khan to intervene in the matter and salvage the situation. “The PM, as a former sportsman, can still have a dialogue with FIFA to resolve the issue,” he told Dawn.

The government had earlier on Wednesday distanced itself from any role in the takeover of the PFF headquarters by the Ashfaq group despite Dogar being an adviser to the Prime Minister.

“We do not endorse what has happened in Lahore,” Federal Minister for Inter-provincial Coordination (IPC) Dr Fehmida Mirza told reporters in Islamabad during a press conference four hours before the 8pm deadline.

Fehmida asked FIFA to open fresh dialogue with football officials in Pakistan, claiming that a suspension wasn’t a way forward.

“We have written a letter to FIFA to send its fact finding committee to Pakistan,” she said, despite FIFA having done so several times in the past few years.

“We do not want the game of football to be ruined in Pakistan. We’ve told FIFA that we want to resolve the issues of Pakistan Football Federation. The immediate ban [on Pakistan] is not a solution to the problem.”

Fehmida, however, stated that the PFF NC should conduct elections before their June 30 mandate.

“The PFF NC should continue working to hold free and fair elections in the time it has been given,” Fehmida, flanked newly-appointed Director General Pakistan Sports Board retired Col Asif Zaman, IPC secretary Mohsin Mushtaq and IPC parliamentary secretary Syma Nadeem, said.

“The PFF NC was formed some 18 months ago, yet they have failed in delivering the elections,” she said, adding that the government was in talks with the Ashfaq group to “resolve the issue amicably”.

Four hours later, though, there was no amicable resolution in sight. And as Khokhar left the PFF headquarters with the Ashfaq group refusing to vacate, Pakistan football is once again staring into deep abyss.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2021

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