TO Soccer-loving country with a population of 200 million ranked 199th in the world, Asia’s sleeping giant is not China, India or Indonesia, but Pakistan. “If things are done correctly, then we could be a superpower,” Pakistani international Navid Rahman told The Guardian. “It’s not because of a lack of talent or interest, but because of the way things are handled; the problem is not Pakistan, but the people who are in control ”.
That sounds good, as last Wednesday FIFA banned Pakistan for the second time in four years after what it called a “hostile takeover” of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF).
Haroon Malik, head of the FIFA (NC) standardization committee since January and charged with, among other things, holding elections to find a new PFF president, felt he was very hostile. He told The Guardian that on March 27 he felt as if a group led by his former president Ashfaq Hussain was kicking him out of the PFF headquarters in Lahore.
“I was just there working,” said Malik, who believes the invaders had inside help. “Around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, about 10 or 11 people came into my office and there were more downstairs. [Hussain] led the attack and started demanding that we hand over the PFF accounts. When the decibel levels started to rise, I freaked out and decided it was time to go. “
Leaving was easier said than done, he says. “When we were leaving, they physically restrained some of my staff. When I got to the door on the lower level, it was padlocked from the inside and I was already a bit scared and didn’t know what to do. It was a glass door, so I threw the door stop through it and kicked the rest of the glass and we were off. “
Dramatic as it may sound, Hussain, who was elected PFF president in 2018 in a vote not recognized by FIFA because it was ordered by Pakistan’s supreme court (although he says Pakistan’s laws prevail over FIFA’s), denies any intimidation. “This is a baseless statement,” he said, adding that he left with about 14 members of the PFF congress and executive committee. “We had a meeting with Haroon. He said, ‘Give me five minutes to decide. We were all waiting almost 45 minutes, so I went to ask him again and he left the office with his bag that was already packed. We were on the second floor and when he left, he took a brick and broke one of the windows. “
It would be easy to get into the symbolism of Pakistani officials arguing about the broken glass, but there are bigger issues at stake. Malik, whose appointment in January according to FIFA “will give new impetus to the normalization process”, He said time was needed because there hadn’t been a true PFF election for a decade, which meant compiling a full voting record for all stakeholders was a lengthy task. A public announcement outlining the electoral roadmap was scheduled for early April.
Hussein wonders if there was such an intention. “If a country with more than 200 million inhabitants can organize elections in three months, why have there been no elections in football? For 18 months we waited and we did not even approach the building but they did nothing, but there is a limit ”.
There is no roadmap now, but there is an international ban due to what FIFA called the “illegitimate occupation of the PFF building”. Hussain is unfazed. “Soccer will never stop in Pakistan. I kept writing to FIFA but they never responded. Enough is enough. If this is football, God help us ”.
Malik describes as “mind-blowing” what appears to be such unconcern about the suspension given the impact he believes it would have on football sponsorship and facilities.. The men’s team may barely play (there have been seven games in the last six years due to the early elimination of World Cup qualifying campaigns and events in the federation) but the ban will be “devastating”, according to Rahman. . “The livelihoods of many people are at stake,” he said. “People have given up a lot to get where they are. They are playing with people’s lives and futures. We just want to represent our country. “
The players, who already face obstacles to playing the game in Pakistan, have also expressed their opinion. The teams immediately withdrew from the women’s national championship, organized by the NC. “There were already so many social constraints and we finally had this platform like the women’s national championship, but it was all over on Saturday night,” said Cinderalla Salamat of Sialkot City Women’s FC, adding that withdrawing was a difficult decision. “I cried but we decided to go back to Sialkot. It was just wrong and we couldn’t be a part of any of it. “
The captain of the men’s national team, Kaleemullah Khan, has not been the only one to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan, who knows a thing or two about sport in Pakistan, to bang a few heads. The former cricket star appears to have remained silent until now, although the director general of the country’s public sports board said the government was surprised and dismayed by the ban.
No one else seemed to be, but whatever happens, Malik thinks the damage is done. “They have already removed a lot of records, computers and personnel from the building. You cannot interrupt a game and then continue as if nothing had happened, but we don’t want to lose another generation of players and officials ”.
Hussein has said that it is ready for talks with FIFA and insists that the NC can return, under certain conditions. “We are still open to FIFA and we say: ‘Come and make the elections.’ We’ll provide space in the building for that, but they can’t control everything. We are the elected body and Pakistani football will still continue ”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism