KARACHI: Their demeanor is such that it seems the officials of the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee feel they are a godsend for the sport in the country. Now, they’re talking like that too.

Speaking in defence of the Pakistan Football Connect Progr­a­mme for club registration — the first step towards holding the elections of the PFF, NC chief Haroon Malik was a tad brash. The extensive Connect Progra­mme has provoked the ire of the grassroots officials and stakeholders — those who are expected to contest the elections whenever they are held by the PFF NC — but Haroon is vocal in saying he isn’t at fault.

“If the PFF had done their job regarding registration and scrutiny of the clubs over the past 75 years, I wouldn’t have needed to do this,” Haroon told reporters on the sidelines of the opening game of the National Challenge Cup at the KPT Stadium here on Tuesday.

The question remains whether freshly-registered clubs will get a right to vote. The PFF Constit­ution states that a “club will be considered active and shall be eligible for voting at the annual general body meeting only if it has taken part in at least 90 % matches of the District League championship and has also participated in the District Football championship”.

Organising district events will mean further delay in the club registrations with the PFF NC having only last week launched the mobile unit shuttle service for the Connect Programme to reach out clubs in far-flung areas. The Haroon-led NC has claimed that it will hold elections according to the timeframe set by the PFF Constitution once the registration process for clubs, who vote at the district level is completed. Haroon stated the same on Tuesday but said the court cases against the PFF NC were impeding the election process.

But the happenings elsewhere tell otherwise.

On Monday night, the recently-appointed PFF disciplinary committee announced a five-year ban on Abdul Mannan, who had filed a civil suit against the PFF NC chairman in Quetta. The disciplinary committee stated that Man­nan had failed to appear before it after having been issued a show cause notice. It added that in his reply to the notice, Mannan had submitted a withdrawal order of the suit.

Similar show cause notices, a copy of which is available with Dawn, were sent to Mohammad Naeem and Sheikh Iqbal ur Rehman, who had filed petitions against the PFF NC in the Bahawalpur Bench of the Lahore High Court. The legal department, though, has made an error in the notice where it claims that the elections of the Punjab Football Association, held in May 2018, were illegal. Those elections held under the order of the Supreme Court, however, were accepted by the then-PFF setup, the Pakistan Olympic Association and global football body FIFA which has appointed the PFF NC.

Haroon was asked whether the disciplinary committee appoi­nted by him was “ill-informed”. “I haven’t had a look at the show cause notice,” he stated. “The disciplinary committee is an independent body.”

For the time being, though, it looks likely that the PFF NC will stay beyond the mandate it was given by FIFA upon its return to the PFF headquarters in June last year, when a 15-month suspension on Pakistan was lifted. The suspension came after the NC had been expelled from office after a takeover by a group of officials led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah, who was elected PFF president in an election held by the Supreme Court in December 2018 which was not accepted by FIFA and subsequently led to the appointment of the NC to iron out matters of the crisis-hit PFF in September 2019.

Haroon became NC chairman in January 2021 after the resignation of his predecessor Humza Khan and the committee was subsequently overhauled. “It you look at the current NC, we’ve been able to work for only nine months,” said Haroon, referring to the takeover of the PFF headquarters in March 2021.

FIFA had announced a mandate until June this year for the PFF NC but after a visit from a joint-delegation from world’s football governing body and the Asian Football Federation last week, it seems that an extension till the end of the year is on the cards for the Haroon-led body.

It would mean that the PFF NC will be in place when Pakistan open their qualifying campaign for the 2026 FIFA World Cup in October. “The idea is to give the national team as many matches as we can get before the qualifiers,” Haroon said. “We will likely be participating in a three-nation tournament in March and then we will try to play a few friendlies in the international window in June.”

Haroon was asked whether the PFF was looking to appoint a technical director to oversee the development of the national teams. “The only pro-license coach we have [Shehzad Anwar] is the coach of the men’s national team so of course a technical director would have to come from abroad,” he said, before once again delving into the fact that a case regarding PFF bank accounts was still in court. “Because of that, our hands are tied.”

Dawn, however, has obtained a copy of the letter that was sent by FIFA in June when the mandate of the PFF NC was extended where it is clearly stated that the Haroon-led body had opened a new bank account in June last year and was in a position to manage the finances. The PFF accounts had been blocked after NC member Shahid Khokhar had gone to the civil court of Lahore to secure them following the takeover by the Ashfaq group.

Reminded about that fact, and also the fact that the AFC offers funding to pay the salary of a technical director, Haroon’s tone changed. “Yes, there is a programme by the AFC which sees the salaries paid directly to the technical director,” he said. “I’ll send you details of that,” he said, before walking off and before he could be told that those details were not really needed.

Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2023

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