"It is very important to take a stand for what is right, it is important for life, and it is what football has taught us,” Cinderella Salamat, the player and the force behind Sialkot City Women FC believes that the imminent Fifa ban on Pakistan only spells doom for her and her club like the rest of the footballers in the country.
Cinderella’s story is a fairy tale the upgrade on the old one. This one involves a shoe that kicks the football instead of just a walking glass slipper. This was a challenge that she not only beautifully overcame in the form of making a girls team in a city like Sialkot after the efforts for six gruelling years, where there was no culture of women’s football, but also getting her team with the help of club founder Malik Abdul Aziz to the National Women’s Championship 2012. The event was later cancelled after the illegal occupation of the Pakistan Football federation (PFF) headquarters on Saturday March 27.
“We struggled and convinced people to let their girls play in Sialkot. There was already so many societal limitations and finally we were going somewhere with it, finally we had this platform like the National Women’s Championship and finally we had some football to play. But it all finished in a blink of an eye on that Saturday night. It was the toughest decision we had to make. I cried, I was tearful, but we decided that we will return to Sialkot as the attacking group have taken over the football house in Lahore. We decided to stand with the PFF’s Fifa-appointed Normalisation Committee (NC) who have organised the National Women’s Championship to begin with. We chose not to continue with the tournament that very night, because we knew we can’t be a part of the tournament that was then being organised by the same people who have attacked and occupied the PFF headquarters. It was just wrong, and we couldn’t be a part of any of that.”
Cinderella has been an inspiration to girl payers and to the people who followed Sialkot CIty Women FC’s journey. She played as a midfielder herself, but March 27 and the events that followed reminded her of her own time when she had to give up the pursuit of playing as a footballer.
“It just threw me back into the time when I wanted to be a professional footballer but then PFF became the centre of chaos. With no football and the ban, my precious years had gone to waste. Now they are saying that there can be another long ban of five to 10 years. It is a lifetime, this period for players. They are taking away the opportunities, the scope for women footballers, who have so many limitations to overcome already.
“Now all I am seeing is another generation of players on the verge of a devastating loss of years and talent. It is painful and unfair.”
She added that the politics in the PFF and the officials involved are nothing but a scam and power-hungry.
She further said that even though her team conceded more than 40 goals in the main round before the exit after the group stage (they were in Group B), she was hoping to win the development stage and her team had shown improvement.
They had won their first match in Karachi in the development stage and she believes it was a good round with teams of similar level of skills, even though her team lost badly in the main round against much stronger and more established opponents.
“We were excited, in fact we were aiming at taking the trophy of the development stage. It was the dream run me and my team were looking for. But it all ended, and it only brings sadness to us. However, my message to the players every day is the same to not give up under circumstances, to keep training and keep our heads up high.
“The key is to not give up at all. We are just praying the Fifa gives NC some time to resolve the situation and not ban Pakistan,” said Cinderella, as she revealed that her club resumed daily training right after returning from Karachi after the National Women’s Championship cancellation from NC.
The tournament was featuring 19 teams in four groups initially with a development stage sub-event, where the eliminated sides from the group stage could play amongst each other for the top prize. Cinderella’s team was sure of getting to the final easily.
Meanwhile, players like Pakistan captain Hajra Khan along with other national footballers had chosen not to play the remaining tournament under the group that attacked PFF headquarters illegally. After Wednesday, Hajra and others released their reactions on the imminent ban too, all hoping that Fifa would reconsider and help NC resolve the matter without the ban.
Earlier, Ashfaq Hussain had told The Express Tribune: "This [the Fifa deadline] is not a deadline from God, or holy in anyway, but we will see."
Hussain said that he is the rightful PFF president representing his congress that was given a mandate through the Supreme Court-ordered elections.
"I’m answerable to the Supreme Court, and I must uphold this. It is a responsibility given to me. I am not alone, there is a congress behind me, and my mandate according to that election will end in 2022," Hussain had explained to The Express Tribune.
When asked how he gave the charge of the Fifa headquarters to the then NC chief Humza Khan, he had said the agreement was on a good will.
"I follow the law of the land and Fifa must listen to our side of the story too. I am the President with a mandate through elections, and if tomorrow the Supreme Court asks me what I did with my job, I will be held in contempt of court. Who will save me from that if I don’t do my job right now. I gave the charge to NC and Humza on a gentleman’s word, and he said that the NC will hold free and fair elections. We waited for 18 months and we see nothing. That says something else, it means they are not intending to hold elections any time soon," Hussain had said.
Meanwhile, Malik had said after the Fifa deadline had passed that the letter he received from Fifa’s Secretary General demanded clarity within a week.
Fifa’s decision would be on either/or basis. He added that he received the letter from the international body after Fifa have consulted from the relevant committee. “When I got the letter it was about two scenarios, a yes or a no, since they have not vacated the headquarters, it is a no, and that would mean a ban,’ Malik had said.
The full Fifa statement, after the Ashfaq-led group took over the PFF headquarter read: “Both FIFA and the AFC strongly condemn the incidents that have taken place at the headquarters of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) in Lahore, in which PFF staff had to be evacuated after the offices were stormed by a group of protestors.
“As per the decision of the Bureau of the FIFA Council, the normalisation committee is the sole entity recognised by FIFA, and has been appointed to manage the activities of the PFF until 30 June 2021 as per its current mandate. This latest incident has regretfully caused severe disruption in the ability of the normalisation committee to deliver their mandate.
“FIFA and the AFC demand that the parties that have occupied the PFF headquarters immediately hand back the premises to the normalization committee or the matter will be referred to the Bureau of the FIFA Council, the consequences of which may include suspension of the PFF as per FIFA statutes.”