The prayers of the Pakistani footballers finally were answered as FIFA lifted suspension from the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) after exactly 14 months and 22 days, as the world body announced its decision on Thursday.
“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 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,” read the FIFA press statement on June 30 regarding the PFF’s membership.
The PFF has been a controversial organisation since 2015, wrought by the third-party interferences that FIFA does not tolerate in the workings of its member associations, and urges them to work as independent bodies.
The matters with PFF started to look better with the installation of the FIFA's Normalisation Committee in September 2019, but the quarrelling former officials got involved in power politics. Last year on March 27 the Syed Ashfaq Hussain Shah group, which came into the PFF office after the Supreme-Court ordered elections, overthrew the NC head Haroon Malik along with the staff and ‘illegally’ took over the PFF headquarters in Lahore.
FIFA subsequently suspended Pakistan on April 7 after giving numerous warning and ultimatums to Shah’s group to let the NC run footballing matters or else the result was the suspension from the international body, which also resulted in the isolation from the global football.
The Pakistani footballers have missed international events that not only broke their spirits but also left many of them jobless due to the closing of the departmental teams in the wake of the PFF crises.
“I feel this is finally for the first time the PFF has got a genuine chance at starting afresh, at starting in a new direction,” the NC member and a long serving football official Shahid Khokhar, who also worked with the previous administration under Syed Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat told The Express Tribune.
Khokhar has seen the worst of the PFF crisis and holds a more complete perspective on the controversy-ridden PFF.
But at the end of the day, it had been the footballers who have been most affected. According to the numbers given by Khokhar there are at least 700,000 footballers in the country out of which 300,000 to 400,000 are registered players and at least 80,000 are seriously pursuing the sport.
Whereas there are at least 50 women football clubs and 25,000 to 30,000 registered football clubs across Pakistan.
One of the key reasons that the PFF was not allowed to regain the full FIFA membership was the hurdle in regaining financial assets that were also taken over by Shah’s group.
The NC got the PFF headquarters in their possession earlier this year due to the mediation by the then Federal Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Dr Fehmida Mirza, but the accounts were still in dispute.
The NC have been fighting a case against Shah’s group in Lahore.
However, Khokhar said that so far FIFA has helped in reaching a solution on the matter of the accounts and finances.
“We have been directed by FIFA to work and at the moment I can only say that we are now in position of receiving the financial help from FIFA to run the federation. We are working for FIFA in the first place, the case it is still on-going, but now we have a different solution,” explained Khokhar.
Extension for the NC
The NC’s mandate that got the extension in October was due to expire on June 30, however in the press statement by FIFA, the NC is given further time till June 2023 to complete its tasks that include holding fresh elections on all the levels of PFF and conducting the club scrutiny among others.
“The PFF was also informed that any undue interference in its affairs or action that could hinder the fulfilment of the mandate of the Normalisation Committee might lead to the PFF being suspended again and/or the imposition of other sanctions provided for in the FIFA Statutes.
“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,” the FIFA statement added.
Priorities for NC
Khokhar said that the priority for the PFF now will be to resume the work on the national teams that can later compete in international events, apart from rehabilitating the PFF headquarters that was vandalised by Shah group and had no electricity or gas along with basic amenities left.
“We need to rehabilitate the PFF headquarters. They are not functional at the moment and do not have electricity or gas. We can’t even sit in the rooms aside from one, so we will get the PFF house in shape.
“On the sporting side our priority will be to resume the football activities and have our national teams set up again,” said Khokhar, as he pointed out that more details will be given to the media after Eidul Azha on July 15.