Pakistan has never been considered a significant force on the football pitch. They are currently 199th in the official FIFA rankings. Yet, the country has attracted the attention of the football fraternity over the last few days. For all the wrong reasons.
The FIFA council has suspended the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) for what they described a“hostile takeover” — a serious violation of its statutes and a clear third-party interference.
A group of football officials, led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah, who was elected as PFF president in the 2018 elections sanctioned by the Pakistan Supreme Court but not recognised by FIFA, took over the headquarters last month and seized control from the PFF Normalisation Committee (NC) appointed by FIFA and headed by Haroon Malik.
Having followed the development on the other side of the border with considerable interest, a member of the AIFF said: “We, in India, too are being run by an executive committee that has no mandate and enjoys power beyond its stipulated period. But we will not face any problem since we have managed it well till now.”
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It was of course a remark strictly not to be quoted officially. Indian football is certainly far more professionally run than it is in Pakistan. At the same time, there is no denying the fact that the AIFF has currently been reduced to an ad-hoc body – the four-year term of its present set of office bearers and executive committee members effectively completed in December last year. No one in the football fraternity has the faintest idea of when the next elections will be held since the national federation is awaiting necessary directives from the Supreme Court for more than four months.
The current committee of the AIFF is holding on to power mainly on the strength of the application it filed in the Supreme Court last November requesting directives on whether to hold elections on the basis of its existing constitution or to wait for the Supreme Court to approve the new constitution, which is still in the pipeline. As the Supreme Court is yet to give a full hearing on the issue, Patel and his men are safely holding on to the hot seats till then.
This mess all began in 2017 when lawyer Rahul Mehra filed a petition in Delhi High Court accusing the AIFF of violating the National Sports Code during the 2016 elections. While the High Court held the elections illegal and removed Patel and his committee from their respective posts, the Supreme Court stayed the order after hearing an appeal from AIFF. Instead the apex court formed a two-member committee consisting of former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi and former India captain Bhaskar Ganguly as members and asked them two formulate a new constitution within eight weeks.
Instead of eight weeks, the committee took two years to submit the draft constitution. Quraishi, however, is not ready to take the blame. He said it took the committee more than 30 meetings, some of which ran into several hours to finalise the draft constitution. Hence the delay.
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“We submitted the draft constitution in January 2020. It is there in Supreme Court records, anyone can check. Our job is absolutely over. It is not for me to answer why the Supreme Court has not taken it up yet. We have no authority to ask such questions,” said Quraishi.
The former CEC, however, is pained at the way his committee was projected by the AIFF. In a letter to its members on November 23, 2021, the AIFF said: “The Ombudsmen (Quraishi and Ganguly) filed an application on 7th February 2020 with the honourable Supreme Court, seeking enlargement of time for submission of the draft constitution of AIFF which is still pending adjudication before the honourable court.”
Quraishi said: “This is an absolute distortion of facts. We had submitted the draft constitution and that’s it. I don’t know why the AIFF wrote such a letter to its members and I have no interest to know also.”
The letter also said the AIFF had requested the court to “allow the executive committee elected on 21st December, 2016 in its annual general body meeting to continue to hold office till a new executive committee is formed pursuant to an election conducted in accordance with the new constitution and may be approved by honourable court….”
The letter raised a storm as 23 state associations wrote to the AIFF saying ideally the elections should be held in time. However, in the virtual AGM held on December 21, 2020, Patel received a mandate from the members for continuing in office till the Supreme Court decided on the matter.
More than three months have passed since then; the matter has come up for hearing only once, that too to be adjourned almost immediately. A senior official of a state association observed: “We stand completely baffled. The present committee will continue to rule despite their term being over. They will continue to pass the buck to the Supreme Court for not hearing them.”
Another member said: “We simply don’t know what to do. The Supreme Court seems too busy, the Sports Ministry is keeping a mum for reasons best known to them. The presence of the current committee headed by Patel violates all rules – AIFF rules and government rules. Patel’s three terms and 12 years were over in December. One of the biggest NSFs is being run in an ad-hoc manner and the ministry is in no hurry to intervene.”
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The federation, of course, has its arguments ready. “It’s deplorable when someone says we don’t want to hold elections. We are only awaiting court directives. Once it comes, the next day the election process will start,” a senior official had been saying repeatedly for the past four months.
Many in the football circle, however, are not sure what exactly stopped the AIFF from holding elections. But they are too scared to talk since it could invite wrath from the people who run the show at the top.
“Where exactly the Supreme Court said the elections could only be held under the new constitution? It is nothing but a matter of interpretations only. Patel is the president as per the existing constitution, he represents India in FIFA and AFC as the existing constitution, all activities of the game in India is run as per the existing constitution, all financial matters are being handled as per the existing constitution. The need for the non-existent new constitution is raised only when someone talks about elections,” a member quite sensibly argued.
Some within the federation fear that things may continue to get more complicated even if the Supreme Court approves the draft constitution submitted by Quraishi and Ganguly. The current committee of the AIFF may not fully agree with the changes and it has every right to challenge it and enter into a long-drawn legal battle. In the meantime, the AIFF bosses will remain busy hogging the limelight in international meets like the Women's under-17 World Cup and Women’s Asian Cup.
What has happened in Pakistan Football Federation is blatantly against the FIFA statute. As a member of the FIFA Council, Patel and his colleagues will surely do the needful to bring the PFF back on the right track. It isn’t too much to ask that his home be cleaned first.
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