KARACHI: It took nearly 15 months, but Pakistan has finally returned to the international football fold.

FIFA announced on Thursday that the Pakistan Football Federation’s (PFF) suspension was being lifted after the global football body received confirmation that its appointed Normalisation Committee for the PFF had “regained full control of the PFF’s premises and was in a position to manage its finances.”

While other modalities will take time to complete, this immediate relief for Pakistan football will mean that the national team can now take part in Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and FIFA competitions.

Pakistan’s national teams have been bereft of international action due to the crisis in the PFF. Over the last four years, the men’s team has played just seven international matches, while the women’s team has not even stepped onto a football pitch once.

It was at the FIFA Congress in Doha at the end of March where the all-powerful Bureau of the FIFA Council had been given the power to lift the suspension on Pakistan once “the pertinent requirements had been met”.

Pakistan was suspended by FIFA in April last year after PFF headquarters were seized from the NC by a group of football officials led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah, who claimed that the Haroon Malik-led committee wasn’t willing to hold elections of the body.

Ashfaq’s group, which came into power following an election of the PFF held by the Supreme Court (which wasn’t recognised by FIFA) had handed over the PFF headquarters to the NC upon its appointment back in September 2019.

The main mandate of the NC is to hold fresh elections, which have been mired in conflict and crisis since the disputed elections held back in 2015.

Out of office, the NC sought government support to get back control of its offices and a vital breakthrough was reached in March when it regained control of the PFF headquarters.

However, the PFF accounts remain frozen after the NC obtained a stay order following the takeover, preventing Ashfaq’s group from accessing them.

PFF NC member Shahid Khokar told Dawn on Thursday that the NC would receive funding from FIFA directly for now, as a case regarding the accounts continues to be heard in court.

The NC was first to announce the lifting of the suspension, minutes before the FIFA statement came through.

“The Bureau of the FIFA Council decided on 29 June 2022 to lift the suspension that was imposed on the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) in April 2021 due to undue third-party interference,” the FIFA media release stated.

“The decision was taken after FIFA received confirmation that the normalisation committee of the PFF had regained full control of the PFF’s premises and was in a position to manage its finances.”

FIFA, however, warned that any interference in the matters of the NC could result in the suspension being reimposed.

“As the deadline by which the normalisation committee was required to fulfil its mandate (30 June 2022) is now no longer realistic, the Bureau has also decided to extend the committee’s mandate until 30 June 2023 at the latest. This will enable the latter to finally carry out the tasks assigned to it in full.”

In order to regain control of the PFF headquarters, the NC had given an eight-month roadmap to the government to hold fresh elections.

Pakistan Sports Board director general retired Col Asif Zaman had told Dawn on the sidelines of the Trophy Tour event for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Lahore in June that it would push the NC to complete the election process in that timeframe, once the suspension is lifted.

Although FIFA did not specify this in its release, Dawn has learnt that the PFF NC has also been given powers to ratify the PFF constitution and bring its clauses in line with FIFA Statutes. With additional reporting by Mohammad Yaqoob in Lahore

Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2022

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