When this piece appears on Sunday, Ronaldinho and friends will be at a Karachi hotel. They will have played an exhibition game at the Abdul Sattar Edhi Hockey Stadium, Karachi, and will be getting ready for departure to Lahore for another match which is to be held today (Sunday) at the Fortress Stadium, having a capacity for 25,000 spectators.
Unfortunately their historic visit to Pakistan occurred at a time when the football activities have been halted in the country for no less than 26 months. Ronaldinho and other stars would certainly want to know why there is no football and why Pakistan is a non-playing nation for the last couple of years.
It is because of the conflict between the FIFA-recognised Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) and a defected group backed by powerful hands that the players’ future has been put at stake.
There was a time when they were all united and Pakistan football was progressing with both FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) giving attention to Pakistan in their game development plans. The country was given eight Goal Projects by FIFA and football infrastructure improved a lot. (Unfortunately the federation has lost the project in Peshawar due to a legal issue.) The football headquarters in Lahore was also constructed through FIFA’s assistance. I would like to mention here that as per FIFA’s statistics, around three million people are actively attached in some way or the other with football in Pakistan, which has a population of 190 million.
Ronaldinho and friends, you would certainly want to know how the tussle between the two groups started. In mid-2015, the elections of the PFF were due. The tussle began as a result of the controversial elections of Punjab Football Association (PFA) in late April 2015.
The PFF officially notified the PFA’s elections results. But one group raised its own body. The PFF, led by prominent politician Faisal Saleh Hayat, stood adamant. It had announced the election schedule and went on to hold polls on June 30, 2015, in the presence of an observer from the AFC.
Interestingly, the PFF held the polls despite a restraining order from the Lahore High Court (LHC) issued on June 29. The PFF’s rival group filed a contempt of court petition against the PFF’s President and his aides.
The PFF banned 20 leading members of the rival group. That group convened an extraordinary congress of the PFF in Islamabad and suspended Faisal and terminated his secretary Col Ahmed Yar Lodhi.
Arshad Lodhi, a former PFF Congress member, and Col Farasat, who had worked as Director Projects and Clubs with Faisal, were elected PFF’s president and secretary, respectively.
After a few days, the same group expelled PFF’s officials from the PFF headquarters in Lahore. The secretariat is still in its possession.
The LHC declared the June 30 elections null and void and appointed Asad Muneer, a former justice as PFF administrator. He is still working in that capacity.
The matter then went to a double bench of LHC, which on February 2, 2017, gave its decision but it also did not resolve the issue. The Supreme Court on April 6, 2017, set aside the double bench’s decision and advised the bench to decide the case on merit. Its hearing will start in September.
PFF, in the meantime, also fought a case against the government. It challenged the legal status of the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB), a body which funds federations of different sports.
In August 2015, FIFA sent its fact-finding mission to Lahore which met both the parties. Later the same year, FIFA gave Faisal’s group two years until September 2017 to revise PFF’s constitution and hold elections. But the PFF could not do anything because its accounts had been frozen and the PFF headquarters was in possession of the rival group.
Most recently, AFC, following recommendations of its Member Association task force, wrote to FIFA that PFF should be given two more years until 2019.
Let’s see how the move works. Because of the issue Pakistan players have not featured in any international event for the last 26 months. This has inflicted a huge damage on the whole football structure, and a bunch of top players who were playing in foreign leagues. Because of the halt to their international exposure, foreign clubs don’t offer them contracts any more.
The players also suffered at the domestic level as for the last two seasons the Premier League has not been held. The players may miss yet another season as the league is normally started in September.
Pakistan has great potential in football but politics and lack of patronage are hurting the game.
There is no proper club structure in Pakistan and government-owned departments and commercial banks have given jobs to the players.
Because of the conflict the players’ increments have been stopped and no induction has been made for the last two years.
Lyari, a district in Karachi, is called mini-Brazil. It has an amazing talent. The people and players of this area might attract Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos in particular.
In 2007, Pakistan held the then Asian champions Iraq to a goalless draw in the World Cup qualifying game in Aleppo.
Pakistan’s highest ranking has been 96 which was achieved in 1994. Today the country stands at the 200th spot.
Ronaldinho and friends can help Pakistani players. They can get them places in foreign leagues. It is not a tough job for them keeping in view their high status. If not in Europe, their adjustment even in Asian leagues would be of immense advantage for Pakistani players.