SPORT

Much harassed FIFA referee returns

S.R. Suryanarayan

CHENNAI: The Chennai-based FIFA referee S. Suresh returned home after his SAFF assignment in Karachi only in the early hours of Thursday, having had to overstay in Pakistan to comply with the police clearance requirement as per the immigration rules pertaining to Indian passport holders. The SAFF tournament had ended on December 17.

The Indian team and officials too had gone through the hassle earlier. Since Suresh had stayed in a different hotel, he had little communication with the Indian team. Nonetheless he did not feel unduly disturbed by the immigration officials' action. "They were cordial even though they were very strict", he said.

Indifference

What hurt him was the total indifference shown by the Pakistan Football Federation and the SAF authorities. "Once the tournament was over the connection with the officials was totally cut off. A senior official of SAF openly expressed his inability to help me when I requested his assistance for hotel accommodation after I explained my predicament", he said. Suresh said the police formalities had ended swiftly and smoothly on Monday itself but the next PIA flight, he had booked on, was only on Wednesday.

Elaborating on that unexpected happening at Karachi airport, he said: "My luggage had already been checked in and I was given the boarding ticket when, with about half an hour for the flight to take off, the same immigration officials, suddenly, pulled me out for non-compliance of police clearance requirement. My request for having my luggage unloaded was turned down but luckily Baichung Bhutia came to my help and took the responsibility of taking it with him, but I had very little money in hand," Suresh said.

Sense of fear

Fortunately for the Indian official he had a contact in Karachi, a former FIFA referee (Iqbal), who remained with him till he left the country. "I even asked him to stay with me in the modest hotel that I managed with the money in hand. It was a sense of fear that concerned me most because there was no official security for me. To draw comfort I kept in touch with my family and friends back home right through the stay in the hotel", Suresh said.

Suresh said the AIFF office in Delhi did get in touch with him. For one who has travelled to various countries in Asia as part of his FIFA duty, this was an unexpected happening because, as he puts it, "the officials at the Karachi airport while giving me a form to be filled, on my arrival, did not give the impression that there is much to be read into the police clearance clause."

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