WhatsApp Elections in Pakistan Football Raised Questions on FIFA

Wed Feb 21 2024
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Amjad Aziz Malik

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Following the general elections in Pakistan, the candidates who won are protesting. And those who lost say polls have been rigged. The eyes of the whole world were on the general elections. The unexpected results of the elections have surprised everyone. And at a time when rigged general elections were the talk of the town, the FIFA-appointed Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalization Committee dropped a bombshell on footballers and administrators.

NC has announced the conduct of the elections of the district football associations (DFAs) through WhatsApp. It is most likely that the voting process will be conducted through an application for the first time in the history of sports. NC’s step to adopt a hybrid polling procedure forced the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) to write to NC, informing it of its concerns. The matter has also been brought to the notice of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

However, NC’s chairman Haroon Malik has surprised football fans, saying that FIFA has not only appreciated this process but has also allowed the conduct of elections through WhatsApp. “This is a hybrid process. We will practically execute this process. FIFA is satisfied with this process,” Haroon told a news conference at the PFF headquarters in Lahore the other day.

If it happens, it will probably be the first time in the history of football that digital elections will be conducted. And it also will leave an impact on football associations around the world. It is expected that it may spark global criticism. Football is the most popular sport in Pakistan, but unfortunately, politics and politicians have left no stone unturned in ruining this sport. Several times in the past, FIFA had to take football affairs in Pakistan into its own hands.

This time, too, the affairs of the football federation in Pakistan had deteriorated so much that FIFA had to install NC in September 2019. The purpose of this committee was to conduct elections and run the day-to-day affairs of Pakistan football. The committee was given a period of nine months. These nine months extended to two years, and elections could not be held during this long period. This forced FIFA to bring changes in the NC’s composition. Canada-based Haroon Malik replaced Hamza Khan as NC’s chairman.

He was given a period of six months to conduct the PFF elections and hand over the affairs to the elected body, but this could not happen. The delaying tactics forced a group of stakeholders to raid the PFF headquarters in Lahore. Third-party interference forced FIFA to impose sanctions on Pakistan on April 8, 2021. NC also got an opportunity to take more time for the elections. It would not be wrong to say that FIFA has been deceived several times.

Haroon failed to conduct elections even after two years, but he has come up with a tricky plan: the elections of the DFAs will be held through WhatsApp. Barring nine districts in Balochistan and a few in other provinces, the scrutiny process has been completed. According to sources, 6000 football clubs from across the country submitted applications for registration. They then go through the scrutiny process.

The other day, NC released a voting list of around 1150 clubs of the 77 districts out of 169, and the voting process will begin in a few days in these districts.

Once scrutiny is completed and issues are resolved in some of the districts, NC will also unveil the voting list of the clubs in the remaining districts as well. NC believes that by the middle of March, it will be able to conduct the DFAs elections.

The instructions issued for voting on WhatsApp are also very interesting. Keeping the traditions of elections in Pakistan, the ground realities have been completely ignored. Now, if a candidate kidnaps the presidents of various clubs, takes them to his house at gunpoint, and then asks the voters to vote for him, will this decision be accepted? NC’s stance to go with the hybrid polling procedure will also create difficulties for FIFA in the future.

An NC source claims that NC has saved Rs 15 million by deciding to conduct the DFA election through a hybrid process. However, the source did not say that in the last two years, how much money FIFA has given to Pakistan? The PSB has written a letter to NC expressing its concerns over its move to conduct the DFAs elections through WhatsApp, asking it to reconsider its decision. The former captain of the Pakistan football team, Col (retd) Nouman, said in a conversation with this correspondent that the announcement of elections on WhatsApp is surprising for him as well, and this decision is being criticized all over Pakistan. This scribe also tried to contact FIFA authorities and get their opinion on the hybrid model of the DFA election.

There are major concerns among several stakeholders regarding the use of WhatsApp as the platform for conducting the elections. Never before has such a voting system been evolved by any federation in Pakistan where WhatsApp is used to conduct elections, and that is as sensitive as the PFF’s elections are.

“While we appreciate the need for innovation and flexibility in adapting modern communication methods, using WhatsApp for such important proceedings raises concerns. Therefore, it is imperative that the election procedures ensure equal opportunities for all the candidates and provide clear mechanisms for oversight and accountability.”

Amjad Aziz Malik

He is a senior journalist with over 30 years experience and was formerly Bureau Chief of Geo TV, is currently CEO of We News and Chief Editor of Kasoti News.

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