What now for the Pakistan Football Federation after FIFA ban?

Shahrukh Sohail Shahrukh Sohail

FIFA’s ban on the Pakistan Football Federation wasn’t a big surprise for many in a footballing nation that boasts nearly three million players.

It had been on the cards since March 2015, when two warring factions of the Pakistan Football Federation – one led by incumbent President Faisal Salah Hayat and the other by his former ally Zahir Ali Shah – started in-fighting after the controversy-ridden Punjab FA elections.

Zahir took to the Lahore High Court, which ordered a stay on the elections. Faisal disregarded that ruling and proceeded anyway.

Subsequently, the LHC ordered one of its own judges to take over the PFF House in Lahore and manage the day-to-day affairs until further notice.

FIFA deemed this as third party interference, as per its statues, and ultimately handed a ban to Pakistan after giving them a deadline of July 31 2017 to remove the administrator.

But where does Pakistan go from here now? The country was effectively under a ban anyway as the Faisal Salah Hayat led-faction cited lack of funds to send the senior national team abroad for a multitude of competitions, while FIFA refused to recognize the Administrator-led side.

The local football scene was devoid of any competitions, including the Pakistan Premier League. Subsequently, no team could ply their trade in AFC’s continental competitions either.

There was no PFF Challenge Cup (although the administrator did organize a similar tournament in Karachi in January) and no age-level youth tournaments.

Pakistan missed the SAFF Cup at multiple age groups, the AFC Solidarity Cup and possibly two years of international fixtures – meaning that as far as the ban goes nothing changes on ground.

After missing nearly two-and-half-years of international football, Pakistan has gone back a good few years in terms of exposure and player development.

Even when football resumes, it’s going to take a momentous effort to restore and bring the players up to par once again. So it’s essential that safeguards and reforms be put into place to avoid such situations in the future.

One of the allegations leveled at the two warring factions was the thirst for power. According to the Pakistani constitution, there is a two-term limit on the head of any sports body in Pakistan and FIFA have now themselves opted for a term limit as well to keep the leadership accountable.

Football in Pakistan has always been filled with potential, but it’s high time that whoever comes into power takes their responsibility seriously and starts with wholesale changes that help dilute central authority and enables all the stakeholders to have a say in how the game is developed.

Nonetheless, unless effective measures are taken, Pakistani football shall continue fighting its woes like it has over the last two and a half years.