KARACHI: After creating a storm on social media on Monday morning, the Pakistan Football Federation Norma­lisation Committee hinted at a u-turn.

Having earlier said it was exploring a neutral venue, the PFF NC said on Monday evening that Pakistan’s 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Jordan on March 21 could yet be played at Islamabad’s Jinnah Stadium, whose readiness for the game it had put in question.

“The match can still be played in Islamabad,” a PFF NC spokesperson told Dawn.

The drama began when in a thread on X, formerly Twitter, the PFF NC had said that it had been working with the Pakistan Sports Board on preparing the Jinnah Stadium for the Group ‘G’ game against Jordan but the venue fell short of meeting FIFA’s standards.

It added that the Jinnah Stadium, which had hosted the second leg of the first-round qualifying tie against Cambodia as well the Group ‘G’ game against Tajikistan, does not have the floodlight system to hold the game against Jordan, which would be played in the night as it falls during the month of Ramadan.

“One significant challenge we are facing is related to the lighting conditions,” it said. “As the March game is scheduled to be held under lights, and considering it falls during Ramazan, we have encountered difficulties in meeting FIFA’s lighting standards with the current setup.

“The deadline for venue submission was January 21 and as we are committed to upholding the integrity of the game, we’ve decided to explore alternative options. We will be in contact with the Jordan Football Association to discuss the arrangement of a neutral venue for the home leg.”

The PFF NC shared videos of the venue, showing the running track alongside the pitch but it soon faced tremendous backlash.

PSB director-general Shoaib Khosa shared a letter on X, dated Jan 19, in which the country’s sports regulatory body had assured the PFF that the stadium would be ready for the game.

“The matter was consulted with the P&D wing of the PSB and it is hereby confirmed that the Jinnah Stadium will be ready to host the World Cup qualifier,” said the letter. “The lights and seats will be installed well before the match as per required standards.”

The PSB DG told Dawn on Monday evening that “the assurances had been sent to the PFF NC”. “We are sure that we will complete the work that needs to be done in time for the game,” he added.

The PFF NC spokesperson, meanwhile, said there wasn’t a deadline of Jan 21 set by FIFA or the Asian Football Federation, but “according to the rules, we have to intimate them about the prospective venue two months before the game”.

“We only saw the letter had been sent to us after seeing it on social media,” added the spokesperson.

FIFA or the AFC did not immediately respond to a query by Dawn regarding the Jan 21 deadline.

The PFF NC’s relationship with the government has blown hot and cold and on Monday it emerged that Fawad Hasan Fawad, the minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination, had written to FIFA earlier this month, asking the global football body to push the Haroon Malik-led committee into holding the elections of the PFF at the earliest.

“I have written to FIFA […] we want the election process to begin as soon as possible,” the IPC minister told Dawn on Monday.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2024

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