Pakistan football is in a mess as FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifier looms

Players have been mistreated and are not paid

September 18, 2023
Pakistan football team sings the national anthem before a match. - PFF

KARACHI: Pakistan has a complicated relationship with football, which is rooted in years of infighting among groups of officials, government interference and corruption.

After the FIFA ban was lifted last year, football players and fans in Pakistan hoped that the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalisation Committee (NC) would make positive changes for the growth of the game in Pakistan but some of the steps taken by the Haroon Malik-led body has raised question marks. 

The current PFF NC tried to paper over the cracks with cosmetic changes but it probably failed to realise that a new coat of paint over rotten wood never works.

With the FIFA Men’s World Cup 2026 Qualifier against Cambodia scheduled to take place next month, on October 12 and 17, the players and support staff have not been paid for the past four months.

The players who featured in the four-nation cup in Mauritius in June, followed by the SAFF Championship in India and the recent AFC U23 Asian Cup Qualifiers in Bahrain are yet to be paid with their dues amounting to approximately Rs1 million each.

When the players asked PFF to clear their payments, they were told that it would be done by mid-July. When the first deadline passed, the players were informed that the payments had been delayed till mid-August. However, the dues were not cleared even after more than a month had passed since the August deadline.

The players were not even reimbursed for travelling to different cities in Pakistan for camps. There also came a time when some of the players had to chip in to pay for their teammates’ travelling expenses in order to ensure that all of them were able to attend the camps.

“Whenever we approached the PFF about releasing payments, we were told that there was a funding issue. We were also told that the payments for Mauritius and India tour will be done by September 15 but that was also not the case,” a source familiar with the situation told on condition of anonymity.

“Recently, when the team went for AFC U23 Qualifiers to Bahrain, no meal was offered to the players at the airport since the officials told them that there was a funding issue due to an audit of PFF accounts.

"Despite all the issues, the players were asked to cooperate by the PFF but for how long could they have done that?

"I know that FIFA did send PFF funds recently but the players and officials were still not paid. I spoke to some of the permanent employees of PFF, who said that their salaries were released in August so it was certain that the national squad would be paid as well. But when I asked the finance department, they said an audit had started.

"I also don’t know if the women’s team was paid for their Singapore trip or not. The U16 team has also not been paid till now.”

It has also been learned that the squad was also not offered contracts for AFC U23 Qualifiers despite getting them in previous events. So, technically they only have agreements in writing for the Mauritius and India tours if they go on to file a case with FIFA regarding delay in salaries.

Some of the diaspora players within the team also pushed the PFF to clear their dues but they were still left empty-handed.

It must be noted that the delay in salaries has been a recurring issue ever since the PFF NC took charge since the dues for tournaments/matches before Mauritius were also not cleared on time.

The PFF NC did well to ensure Pakistan's participation in multiple international tournaments and friendlies, both on the men’s and women’s sides, which aided the players’ development. However, lack of financial security, especially when you are living in a country experiencing rapid inflation, affected the players’ mental health and their ability to do well on the field.

Interestingly, the PFF continues to pay its permanent staff while also hiring coaches. Britain-based Shadab Iftikhar was recently appointed as coach for the Under-19 team, which begs the question as to why the ‘audit excuse’ is only for the players.

It is understood that the funding from FIFA to NC is limited since it is not an elected body but that doesn’t mean that the PFF should not create other revenue streams like getting sponsors on board. The Haroon Malik-led body is responsible for the well-being of the players and they should do everything possible to make that happen.

A PFF official also confirmed that the payments are not processed due to delay in funding from FIFA.

“Yes payments are delayed because of a delay in FIFA's funding to Pakistan. Staff salaries, vendor payments and player compensations are all delayed,” the official said.

However, the official was not sure about the reason behind the delay and no timeline was provided about when FIFA was expected to release the payments.

“That [release of funds] is on FIFA’s end. I don't have information about that since I'm not the one in touch with FIFA’s finance team. Could be a number of reasons for the delay. Not sure,” the official said. 

There is also a lack of clarity over whether the Shaheens will play their home leg of the FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifier against Cambodia in Pakistan. In August, the PFF confirmed that Jinnah Stadium in Islamabad was selected as the venue but, despite the fact that a month has passed, it is yet to confirm whether the stadium has been approved for the fixture by FIFA and AFC.

Diaspora players have been an important part of the Pakistan team in the recent past but there are still question marks over their availability for the Cambodia clash.

Recently, during the AFC U23 Qualifiers, the PFF stopped the team management from sending tickets to three out of five diaspora players owing to the shortage of funds.

Some of the diaspora players approached by the PFF have also not been issued passports yet, despite completing all the documentation, which has left the footballers frustrated.

The PFF NC also put the players, who are also part of the senior team, at risk by making them attend a training camp at the Kunj Ground in Abbottabad for the AFC U23 Qualifiers.

“It was the worst possible camp for the players due to lack of facilities. There was no assistant or goalkeeping coach and Shahzad was doing everything on his own,” the source said.

“The ground was so hard that some of the players faced knee issues, while others pulled their hamstrings and suffered from cramps.”

And that is not all, there is also uncertainty around the future of head coach Shehzad Anwar as the PFF is searching for a foreign coach to replace him. While Anwar has not been able to put the team on the right track that doesn’t mean that Pakistan should sack him at the 11th hour. It will only create more problems since one can’t expect a new coach to imbue his philosophy in time for the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

“I have heard that the PFF is looking to hire a foreign coach and Shahzad is currently not involved with the team despite the camp set to begin the day after tomorrow. Shahzad also told some of the players after U23 matches that he might no longer be the head coach,” the source said.

There have also been major concerns about the way the national women’s team has been handled since multiple players, including former captain Hajra Khan, have gone on record to say that they were bullied and unfairly treated during their time in the camp with head coach Adeel Rizki.

The Lebanese-Iraqi coach Lyne Ismail was appointed as the assistant coach for the Pakistan women’s football team in June this year but she could also not continue due to “budgeting” concerns of the football federation.

“Definitely gutted to be missing this tournament with the squad,” Lyne said after the Pakistan team flew for Saudi Arabia on Saturday for a six-nation tournament.

“PFF doesn’t have a proper plan for budgeting foreign coaches and unfortunately I wasn’t asked to join. With the way they handled it all, it’s hard not to feel tokenised as a female coach serving a limited purpose.”  

Despite the accusations, there has been complete silence from the PFF on the matter.

Lack of communication from the PFF isn’t a new thing and it has been a source of frustration for the media and fans. It is about time they take all the stakeholders into confidence and address the issues. 

Muneeb Farrukh is a senior staffer at