KARACHI: The South Asian Football Federation took some major decisions on Saturday, announcing the start of the club championship while electing the region’s representative at the Asian Football Confederation, but no delegates from Pakistan were present in-person as its Congress met in Dhaka.

The club championship, a long-cherished dream of SAFF president Kazi Salahuddin, will begin from next year, it was disclosed at the news conference following the Congress meeting which saw All India Football Federation secretary Dr Shaji Prabhakaran elected as the AFC executive committee member.

Since becoming SAFF president in 2009, Kazi had been looking at launching the club competition but its inception was delayed since there had been little interest from sponsors. But he told reporters in Dhaka that the “SAFF executive committee has decided in principle to hold the championship from next year”.

“My dream was to get this started,” said Salahuddin. “It will start from the middle of next year on a home and away basis. The details of it will be chalked out following research and discussions among the member associations.”

Pakistan delegates miss Congress

The new development is that the championship will be on a home-and-away basis after Dhaka was last year touted as the venue for the inaugural edition this year. Now, it is set for a 2024 start.

SAFF had announced last year that Pakistan Premier Football League side Wapda would be Pakistan’s representatives in the first edition. The format disclosed had one side each from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan and two teams each from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives.

Prabhakaran’s election to the AFC executive committee comes a year after he was appointed AIFF secretary.

“I would like to express my thanks and gratitude to members of the SAFF and AIFF for giving me this honour by electing me to the AFC Executive Committee,” he said in a statement.

“It is an honour for me to represent SAFF in the AFC Executive Committee, and I will try to play my part being a member for the continuous development of football in Asia by working closely with the AFC president and his team.”

India is set to host the SAFF Championship, the showpiece tournament for the region’s national teams, in Bangalore from the end of June. With Sri Lanka suspended by FIFA, Kuwait have joined as the seventh team. Another team will be invited to make it an eight-team tournament.

VISAS DENIED

Two members of the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee, Shahid Khokhar and Saud Hashmi, were due to travel to Dhaka for the Congress but couldn’t do so after they were denied visas by the Bangladesh authorities.

The duo attended the Congress virtually and Khokhar said that the non-issuance of visas to the Pakistan delegation was damaging to football in the region.

“It is hurting the beautiful game,” he told Dawn in a statement. “Football brotherhood and development of the game must not suffer due to such hurdles. I would not reiterate the importance of the subject matter in the context of people to people contact and relationships, but as a football promoter I must say that it is not in the favour of the spirit of the game.”

He stated that there is a huge collective potential to be explored if Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are on the same page and added that he feared that “if participation of SAFF members in events remains difficult, there will be demands to shift events [like these] to neutral venues.”

Neither Salahuddin nor SAFF general secretary Anwarul Haque Helal responded to queries by Dawn on why visas weren’t issued to the Pakistan delegates.

Khokhar, however, was hopeful that Pakistan’s national team will receive visas to travel to India for the SAFF Championship, which runs from June 21 to July 4.

“The AIFF secretary has assured us multiple times that he will make his best efforts in this regard,” he said, adding that he felt that the SAFF club championship will be a “game-changer for football in the region.”

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2023

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