The dark night is over and the country's footballers hopefully will be eager to get in action
Thursday, June 30, was a historic day for Pakistan football as we saw a wave of excitement among the national footballers, coaches and even some foreign coaches who were extremely happy over FIFA's decision to lift the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) suspension.
Hardly three days before this decision when 'The News' carried a story that FIFA was likely to lift Pakistan's suspension, no one believed that it was going to happen. Those who interacted with me after the story was published said that it was not going to happen but I knew that it was going to happen as it was almost decided by the time when I was releasing the story.
Before proceeding further, I would like to reproduce FIFA's brief statement which it shared with the Pakistan's media on Thursday.
"The Bureau of the FIFA Council decided on June 29, 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.
"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 June 30, 2023, at the latest. This will enable the latter to finally carry out the tasks assigned to it in full."
FIFA had suspended Pakistan in April last year, just days after the Ashfaq group occupied the PFF headquarters in Lahore. FIFA gave them a few days to hand over the PFF headquarters to NC but the group remained adamant which forced the world body to suspend the country for third party's interference.
In November last year, the Punjab government seized the PFF headquarters for lease reasons. And it was expected that the issue would get prolonged but due to the timely interference from the former federal minister of IPC Dr Fehmida Mirza, in March this year the NC was given the possession of the headquarters. There was also the accounts issue which could have further dented the country's football future by delaying the process but the NC did a glorious job on that front too and now is in a position to manage its finances.
It will not be right if we ignore the services of Director General of Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) Col (retd) Mohammad Asif Zaman in the whole episode. He along with Fehmida did well in ensuring that the NC get back the PFF Secretariat. With Fehmida no more a minister, Asif is the key man who knows the commitment which the NC has made with the government regarding the electoral process of PFF. Asif was very happy when he knew that Pakistan's membership was restored by FIFA. "I hope the NC will fulfill its commitment relating to the electoral process. It's a historic decision from FIFA and now we will see our footballers back in international circuit as well as domestic circuit. We have a massive base in the sport and it was going to waste but with the recent decision from FIFA the things will now change and footballers and their families will now see a change in their lives," Asif told 'The News on Sunday' (TNS) during his brief interaction.
I will also appreciate the NC's patience and struggle. It played the cards well despite facing criticism from various cordons and eventually the things happened the way it wanted.
NC's chairman Haroon Malik and senior member Shahid Khokhar deserve appreciation for their long struggle. I hope things will now go in the right direction. It's high time for all parties to back the NC and its mandate so that fair and transparent elections could be held. It's very important. Haroon is a gutsy man, knows things well, and is expected to make decisions which will pave the way for a smooth electoral process.
I also will request the Ashfaq group to respect the mandate of the NC and give it free hand so that it could go for elections within its mandate. Once a new body comes more things can be corrected and players' future will be further safeguarded. FIFA also deserves accolades as it kept cool and helped Pakistan a lot during its difficult time. FIFA has made huge investment in Pakistan's football infrastructure and other areas and I will remind it that Pakistan is the most important country for FIFA as it has a massive population and if we are able to get to the world's best pool then it will also boost FIFA's revenues.
Let's celebrate the fresh beginning in football and I hope players will be extremely eager to re-group. The decision came at a stage when players and officials were passing through an economic crisis as most of the departmental teams were closed and there was hopelessness in the entire football fraternity but now things will change.
The country's top players, especially, will be able to start earning again, will be able to get foreign contracts and coaches will also be able to secure coaching jobs, upgrade their qualification and referees will also get the benefits as the NC is fully authorised to run day-to-day affairs of Pakistan's football.
I will mention electoral matters in future articles when certain things become clear. As the NC's mandate has been extended for one year, until June 30, 2023, I would like to mention the events in which Pakistan can feature during the next 12 months.
In some events draws have already been held but NC may request for ensuring Pakistan's participation. But it depends on when NC receiving funds from FIFA.
Men's events: SAFF Under-20 Championship, which is going to be held in India from July 25 to August 3, is out of our grasp now due to time factor. SAFF Under-17 Championship (September 5-15, Sri Lanka), AFC Under-20 Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers (September 10-18, draws held, may be possible if requested), AFC Under-17 Asian Cup 2023 Qualifiers (Oct1-9) and FIFA Days (September 2022, March 2023 and June 2023). We can arrange matches for the senior team these days.
Women's events: SAFF Under-15 Women Championship 2022 (Bangladesh, to be confirmed), SAFF Women Championship (Nepal, August 12-24), AFC Under-20 Women's Asian Cup 2024 Qualifiers (March 4-12, 2023), Women's Olympics 2024 Qualifiers (R1, April 3-11, 2023), AFC Under-17 Women's Asian Cup Qualifiers (April 22-30, 2023).
Hope NC will make a top effort to ensure Pakistan features in these events in the coming one year.
It's a new dawn for football and I hope no one will try to waste this opportunity and those who will try to sabotage the efforts of bringing Pakistan's football to normalcy should be dealt with iron hands. We will not allow anyone to play with the careers and lives of our kids who want to play football and want to represent the country in the international circuit.
Hope all Pakistan-grown players and foreign-based players will be bracing up for returning to both national and international duty in the coming days. Prepare your kits, get ready, events await you boys.