LAHORE: Pakistan sports are always in the news for all the wrong reasons. And Pakistan football is once again heading towards deep turmoil. FIFA is all set to ban Pakistan. On 27th March 2021 (Saturday), Pakistan football headquarters was attacked and taken over by an illegal group led by Syed Ashfaq Hussain Shah, a former President of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF). It was another dark chapter in the history of Pakistan football and sports. FIFA-appointed PFF Normalisation Committee Chairman Haroon Malik was forced to hand over the organisation’s accounts and cheque books to the Ashfaq-led group. Haroon was restrained by the Ashfaq-led group as they were furious about not conducting the elections. Haroon told them he would provide a roadmap and they should discuss it in a civilised manner but in vain as the PFF staff was physically harassed and held hostage for quite some time before the Ashfaq-led group gained control of the PFF headquarters. It is interesting to note that Ashfaq was named PFF President after a 2018 election held on the instructions of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. FIFA, football’s world governing body, and the Asian Football Confederation had refused to recognise him as the elected President, ruling the Supreme Court’s move as “third-party interference” in running of the national football body. During that time, Pakistan was also suspended for a six-month period from October 2017 to March 2018 for a court appointed Administrator taking over the PFF headquarters from then PFF President Faisal Saleh Hayat. In 2019, FIFA installed the Normalisation Committee –– initially headed by Humza Khan –– to strengthen the football structure in Pakistan, aiming to achieve a functioning administration by conducting transparent elections. After Humza’s resignation in December 2020, FIFA named Haroon as Chairman of the Normalisation Committee. Tensions have been brewing over the past months between the group led by Ashfaq and the Normalisation Committee over what they see as a delay in holding elections. In 2015, Pakistan was banned by FIFA due to third-party interference. FIFA on Tuesday (30-03-2021) issued a stern warning to the Ashfaq-led group, demanding them to hand back the Pakistan Football Federation headquarters to the PFF Normalisation Committee or else the country faces a suspension. Both FIFA and AFC have strongly condemned the incidents that had taken place at the headquarters of the PFF in Lahore, in which PFF staff had to be evacuated after the offices were stormed by the Ashfaq-led group. “As per the decision of the Bureau of the FIFA Council, the Normalisation Committee is the sole entity recognised by FIFA, and has been appointed to manage the activities of the PFF until 30th June 2021 as per its current mandate. This latest incident has regretfully caused severe disruption in the ability of the Normalisation Committee to deliver their mandate. FIFA and AFC demand that the persons who have occupied the PFF headquarters immediately hand back the premises to the Normalisation Committee or the matter will be referred to the Bureau of the FIFA Council, the consequences of which may include suspension of the PFF as per FIFA statutes,” a FIFA spokesperson said. But the Ashfaq-led group has refused to vacate the headquarters of the country’s football governing body, which they had forcibly taken over on Saturday, despite FIFA and AFC warning and deadline. It is also very unfortunate that Pakistan sports, over the years, have become politicized and nepotistic. In the national sphere and the sporting arena the root of our dilemma is the notorious system of patronage and imposed cronies, to the exclusion of merit and professionalism. Under the powerful patron’s benevolent gaze, the pick and choose appointees can survive scandals and failures that would crush an ordinary mortal. These are times when one fails to figure out what is keeping Pakistan sports alive. In other countries, the people running the sports affairs contribute by taking professional decisions and by executing them with competence rather than on the basis of personal preference and bias. But, frankly, we are not such a nation. In Pakistan most things defy logic. Over the years we have all come to accept the reality of our warped existence and begun to believe that if something has to go wrong, there are over 100 percent chances that it will happen here Attacking and storming national sports federations’ headquarters, and taking illegal charge, in not new in Pakistan’s sports history. The first such unprecedented incident took place in Lahore on 3rd September 2013 when a goon squad of nearly two dozen people, some of them carrying firearms, belonging to Major General (r) Muhammad Akram Sahi group, stormed on the Pakistan Olympic Association’s (POA) headquarters in Lahore and stiff-armed its way into the offices and harassed a handful of POA personnel in the premises. With the marauding gangsters gaining in numbers quickly, the POA officials were herded into an enclosed space while the illegal occupation of the POA record and offices were carried out. The illegal and forceful possession by dozens of people caused panic in the POA as well in the surrounding areas. The Pakistan government pressure was visible as the police station concerned refused to register a criminal case against culprits besides another drastic step against the legitimate POA in the shape of freezing its bank accounts. The Pakistan Olympic Movement remained under a siege for almost three years ––– 2012 to 2015 ––– as a handful of disgruntled and mischievous sports elements with the help of the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB), Inter Provincial Coordination (IPC) Ministry and some federal government officials left no stone unturned to destroy the very fabric of the sports in the country and invite the wrath of the International Olympic Committee by openly and shamelessly violating the Olympic Charter. In July 2013, Major General (r) Muhammad Akram Sahi formed a parallel National Olympic Committee of Pakistan in total disregard of the IOC Charter and sports ethics. The sports circles and critics were taken aback by this and serious objections were raised against these unlawful elections at all forums in the country and abroad. For the first time in the history of Pakistan sports, the intense and dirty power struggle, spearheaded by these disgruntled elements, resulted in Pakistan not participating in the Islamic Solidarity Games 2013 in Indonesia and Pakistan hockey’s ouster from the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Finally good sense prevailed in 2015 when the Pakistan Government recognised the legitimate National Olympic Committee headed by Lt Gen (r) Syed Arif Hasan to avoid suspension of the country by the International Olympic Committee. The Federal Government also announced to withdraw its support to an unlawful parallel National Olympic Committee and follow the Olympic Charter in letter and spirit. Since independence Pakistan sports are on the map. International sports performances by Pakistan in the last seven decades have much to commend them. Arguably, Pakistan’s performances in many sports have inspired many countries to emulation to future achievements. But the last two decades have been a different story altogether. Over the years, Pakistan sports have gone to the dogs. Lack of availability of proper facilities and infrastructure, inadequate role of sports federations and lack of support from the government has badly affected Pakistan’s graph in sports. Perhaps the biggest reason for the extraordinary decline in sports in Pakistan is a lack of funding and vision. Governments all over the world keep sports and education as their top priority, build infrastructure, hold talent development programmes for players and promote medical sciences in sports to compete the world of sports. But in Pakistan it is totally opposite because sports are not our priority. It is also very unfortunate that Pakistan sports, over the years, have become politicized and nepotistic. In the national sphere and the sporting arena the root of our dilemma is the notorious system of patronage and imposed cronies, to the exclusion of merit and professionalism. Under the powerful patron’s benevolent gaze, the pick and choose appointees can survive scandals and failures that would crush an ordinary mortal. These are times when one fails to figure out what is keeping Pakistan sports alive. In other countries, the people running the sports affairs contribute by taking professional decisions and by executing them with competence rather than on the basis of personal preference and bias. But, frankly, we are not such a nation. In Pakistan most things defy logic. Over the years we have all come to accept the reality of our warped existence and begun to believe that if something has to go wrong, there are over 100 percent chances that it will happen here. Apply that yardstick and most things fall into some kind of understandable pattern. We all know too well that the continuous abuse of this country has rendered it without any value. Every policy has gone horribly wrong and yet, as if possessed by demons, one demented leader after another has blown billions of borrowed money on schemes that would rate highly in any madhouse. No one is ever punished and the clichés that are endlessly mouthed are disconnected from the grim reality of the reality of life here. Many of us believe –– we have no choice really –– that we are over the hill and done with. That nothing will ever work –– crooks will prosper and become the pillars of society and each venal leader will rise to grab something or the thing. We are aware that the larger issues are now beyond any solution but what cuts like a rusted knife into our very soul is how large the disconnect is, and the smallest of things that had any meaning are no longer there. And the world of Pakistan sports is no different. Pakistan football has been in a mess since the government officials have started interfering in the affairs of the national federation. FIFA is all set to ban Pakistan, as it did before, but the disgruntled elements and mafias, who want control of football in an unconstitutional and illegal manner, do not care as they just love to put the sport in a financial chaos and development projects on hold. And it seems that day is not that far away!