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‘Dark day’: Pakistan football HQ attacked, women’s event scrapped

Pakistan football’s headquarters have been attacked, with the chairman of the FIFA-appointed Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee (NC) saying he was forced to hand over the organisation’s accounts and cheque books.

Haroon Malik, the PFF NC chair, said Saturday’s attack was led by former PFF President Syed Ashfaq Hussain Shah who was accompanied by other officials.

“I was working at the office when a mob, organised by Shah, barged into my office and asked me to hand over charge of the PFF and all bank accounts,” Malik told Al Jazeera on Sunday.

“They restrained me and locked the doors, shouting and telling me to hand over the PFF to them. They were furious about not conducting the elections. I told them I will provide a roadmap and we should discuss it in a civilised manner.”

A PFF spokesperson added that “staff was physically harassed and held hostage”.

Shah was named PFF president after a 2018 election held on the instructions of the country’s Supreme Court.

FIFA, football’s world governing body, and the Asian Football Confederation refused to recognise him as the elected president, ruling the court’s move a “third-party interference” in running of the national football body.

In 2019, FIFA installed the NC – initially chaired by Humza Khan – to strengthen the football structure in Pakistan, aiming to achieve a functioning administration by conducting transparent elections.

After Khan’s resignation in December 2020, FIFA named Malik as the body’s chair.

Tensions have been brewing over the past months between the group led by Shah and the NC over what they see as a delay in holding elections.

In 2015, Pakistan was banned by FIFA due to third-party interference and there is fear among football circles that Saturday’s events might lead to another suspension.

Malik said he suspects the officials who took part in the “attack” will be banned and “FIFA will probably declare them as ‘persona non-grata'”.

“FIFA takes these matters strongly and will likely ban Pakistan which means we won’t have functional football for five years. This will just kill football in the country,” added Malik.

Event cancellation

The incident also forced the cancellation of the ongoing women’s football championship that kicked off earlier this month in the southern coastal city of Karachi.

With 19 teams comprising young female footballers coming from all over the country to take part in the event, the cancellation left participants shocked and disappointed.

“It is a dark day for all women football players in the country. Football in Pakistan is suffering again due to politics,” said Taha Ali, coach of Karachi United Football Club. “The actual stakeholders in this game are the players and coaches, but we feel powerless in this situation.”

The club’s captain, Nina Zehri, said footballers crave the exposure that national and international tournaments offer and a possible suspension will lead to losing years of exposure on the national and international circuit.

“We just want to play and not waste our time in politics,” said Zehri. “I started playing 10 years ago. My youth is gone. For the first time, I witnessed a revival was taking place through this championship, especially for women. If we get banned again, young women who are at the developmental stage will face consequences for years.”

Sarah Ali, a 28-year-old participant, said the taking over of PFF accounts and office resembles a coup d’etat in sports.

“Football, like before, will be banned in Pakistan. We were previously banned by the same administration in 2017 that forcibly took over last night,” Ali told Al Jazeera.