This is the second part of this blog. The first can be read here

How not to handle a self-made crisis

Pakistani football has faced numerous political crises over the past 3 decades alone — almost every time forcing a FIFA intervention. The Mian Azhar vs Hafiz Salman Butt feud was notorious but there was also a crisis in 1989 when PPP’s Ata Muhammad Pathan forced then PFF boss Aftab Sherpao (also PPP) to resign. FIFA ordered PFF to hold fresh elections that led to Mian Azhar’s win in 1990.

The 2015 crisis is much uglier and more prolonged. The ruling PML-N government has always wanted to control sports organisations in Pakistan, and PFF have been in their sights as soon as the 2015 election season came. They allied Hafiz Salman who was fed up by being kept sidelined with a PFF ban apparently not lifted. Not surprisingly, such a prospect horrified Faisal Saleh Hayat as he faced his strongest challenge since 2003 and tried to stop any government ingress. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa FA’s Syed Zahir Ali Shah and Sindh FA’s Khadim Ali Shah retained their respective presidencies unopposed, while Balochistan FA elections were oddly decided on a coin-toss that made Abdul Rauf Notezai win after tying votes with incumbent Khalil Ahmed.

Ali Haider Noor Niazi — a PML-N lawmaker eyeing Punjab FA presidency — had his nomination papers rejected by PFF’s Election Commission for being ‘unable to prove his football credentials’. This led to some ugly scenes at PFF House as Niazi’s and Hafiz Salman’s men occupied the premises for a few hours accusing PFF of pre-election rigging and corruption. PFF accused Niazi’s supporters of harassing officials and women footballers present, and lodged a police report. Not to be deterred, pro-government PFA members Rana Ashraf and Arshad Lodhi teamed up to challenge Sardar Naveed Haider Khan.

The PFA election remains shrouded in deep controversy as PFF declared Sardar Naveed the winner. Of the 35 PFA voting members, the Ashraf-Lodhi group were confident that at least 20 would side with them. But conveniently, 8 of those 20 were suspended from voting by the PFF for being part of Ali Niazi’s occupation of PFF House just before the polls causing the suspended voters to obtain a stay order from Lahore High Court (LHC). Conflicting reports suggested that facing anger from Ashraf-Lodhi group members present at PFF House, the PFF Election Commission decided to postpone the PFA elections until further notice. The voting members then left for home awaiting a fresh date. But merely an hour after the Ashraf-Lodhi group’s departure, PFA elections were suddenly with pro-Hayat voters electing Sardar Naveed.

This rival group was alerted by Col (r) Farasat Ali Shah — PFF Director Member Associations & Projects and PFF Election Commission secretary — expressing shock at what Hayat did and defected. The rival 20 members elected Rana Ashraf by themselves. Hayat’s PFF remained coyish and took their time before formally announcing their result a few days later. The other group immediately went to the LHC regarding the disputed PFA elections who in turn ordered the government-run Sports Board Punjab to submit a report over what happened. For his part, Col Farasat was suspended by PFF over ‘breach of discipline’ raising more controversy.

KPFA boss Zahir Ali Shah — a brother-in-law of Col Farasat — declared he would challenge Faisal Saleh Hayat in the June 2015 PFF Presidential Elections and accused his former ally for violating PFF rules for personal gain. Zahir also claimed BFA’s Abdul Rauf Notezai was being forced to allow the losing party’s three BFA members to retain their seats in the coming PFF Congress if Notezai wanted to remain BFA President after coin-toss win. Media also noted PFF election rules were simply chopped and changed at will by all sides.

Zahir Ali Shah and Col (r) Farasat Ali Shah

Hayat accused Zahir of ‘stabbing in the back’ and blamed KPFA for doing nothing for the Peshawar Goal Project. The PFF boss also took as many as eight ‘observers’ from allied provincial FAs to the AFC Congress in Bahrain to ensure their vote in the PFF elections. Then, SBP declared the PFA elections as illegal. Hayat scoffed saying SBP and LHC had no jurisdiction on PFF matters, and PFF’s own Disciplinary Committee handed life bans on the rebel PFA members for forming a parallel association.

PFF even took to social media, with its numerous officials arguing that ‘malafied interests’ were conspiring against Pak football. Not having a proper media manager since the untimely death of legendary football reporter Syed Akbar Ali Wahidi in 2011 showed PFF was struggled to defend itself. A twitter account under the PFF boss’ name had been often mentioned in past on media and actively tweeted on Pakistani politics and football for at least a year by then. But Hayat’s account likely gained unwanted attention when it tweeted seemingly in favour of FIFA reform. The PFF boss declared the account was fake and even shared on PFF’s Facebook page a copy of a signed PFF letter addressed to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) asking its IT wing to take action. Whether FIA got involved remains puzzling but the account disappeared a day or so later.

The pro-government faction held an Extraordinary Congress in Islamabad by claiming it had more than 1/3rd PFF Congress members needed as allowed by the PFF Constitution to suspend Faisal Saleh Hayat and PFF General Secretary Lt Col Lodhi over corruption and embezzlement. The faction appointed their own officials as interim heads, including former parliamentarian Kashmala Tariq for Women Committee, until the PFF Elections that were to be held merely two weeks later on 30 June 2015. Yet they could not confirm who was in attendance that voted for Hayat’s suspension. Hayat labelled this illegal and refused to budge. This faction forcibly took over PFF House on 20 June described as ‘act of terrorism’ by a furious Hayat as FIFA and AFC expressed alarm.

Arshad Lodhi group planned to hold their election at PFF House while Hayat group shifted their election venue to a ChanglaGali hill resort. However, LHC intervened at the last minute and issued stay orders on PFF elections until hearing of petitions involving the warring factions could be resolved first. Arshad Lodhi group complied with the order but Hayat’s Changla Gali elections went ahead claiming he did not receive any LHC stay order and won a 4th consecutive term with a token AFC official sent as an observer. Hayat also made drastic changes in PFF Congress by not only reducing its members list, but also appointing non-football related people in place of those likely to challenge him. Hayat claimed AFC recognised his win but AFC seemingly was reluctant to take sides.

Hayat even tried to get the Lahore-based press on his side when the PFF organised an Iftar dinner party ‘commemorating’ World Sports Journalist Day a few days after Changla Gali. The irony of PFF celebrating sports journalists to win them over whilst threatening another with legal for doing his job is certainly not lost.

LHC declared the Changla Gali elections null and void, and issued contempt of court notices on Hayat. A retired judge, Justice Asad Munir, was appointed as PFF Administrator and was authorised to audit PFF and hold fresh elections under LHC. The court also ordered the FIA to freeze and investigate PFF accounts for embezzlement. Hayat challenged the court order through renowned lawyer and activist Asma Jehangir saying FIA had no authority to investigate a ‘private body’ like PFF. He also said the PFF Administrator appointment was blatant interference that can lead to a FIFA ban.

FIFA Finally Acts — Or Did it?

Eventually, FIFA decided to send a fact-finding delegation to Pakistan in August 2015 to meet the warring factions and report back about the situation. As the delegation concluded their meetings with both factions, Faisal Saleh Hayat tried to use his good ties with AFC boss Sheikh Salman to influence the outcome in his favour and confer his election win full legitimacy. Both sides claimed FIFA backed them, with Arshad Lodhi group stating FIFA was open to call fresh elections at both PFA and PFF.

FIFA decided in September 2015 that Hayat would be given a maximum of 2 years to reform PFF’s own constitution before holding fresh elections. It also deemed LHC-appointed administrator as interference but didn’t ban Pakistan, yet also did not explicitly approve the Changla Gali elections. But Hayat’s PFF was already declaring victory by saying FIFA had recognised its elections. When pressed for more info, FIFA sources revealed that the original 2011–15 PFF Congress term would continue. FIFA then effectively overturned bans on pro-government PFA members as illegal because PFF disciplinary committee wasn’t independent and had PFF officials as members violating FIFA rules.

By November 2015, FIFA suddenly recognised the Changla Gali elections by contradicting its own ExCo decision in September and added more confusion. But the courts were in no mood to back down from their rulings and went ahead with their proceedings involving PFF. FIFA’s reluctance to form a normalisation committee as it did for Maldives, Benin, and others having disputed elections at the same time raised suspicions. Rumours came that Sheikh Salman and the Kuwaiti FIFA ExCo member Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah may have influenced FIFA to protect Hayat because a normalisation committee would have meant fresh elections.

As the situation became dire, PFF withdrew Pakistan from taking part in the coming youth events like the SAFF U16 Championship. It also withdrew from the 2015 SAFF Suzuki Cup that angered a lot of players and coaches who felt cheated out by bickering politics. Eventually, Justice Munir organised the PFF Cup in early 2016 as an attempt to restore football. SFA’s Khadim Ali Shah tried to indirectly threaten any SFA affiliated teams and players with disciplinary action if they took part in any ‘unauthorised event’. But no Pakistan Premier Football League in 2015–16 meant that no Pakistani league champions would take part in the 2017 AFC Cup qualifiers.

At the same time, 2014–15 PPFL winners K-Electric FC got into trouble with AFC after an investigation on bungled transfers involving two England-based players Irfan Khan and Shani Abbasi who played for K-Electric in 2016 AFC Cup qualifiers in Bhutan were a breach of FIFA rules. Hayat’s PFF and K-Electric had failed to ensure that their international transfers happened with legitimate International Transfer Certificates (ITCs). AFC fined K-Electric $2,000 for fielding the ineligible player Irfan Khan.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) stopped FIA from investigating PFF accounts in January 2016 — a baffling step nonetheless — but LHC started to assert itself in 2016. First, PSB claimed that LHC had dismissed PFF petitions that challenged PSB’s authority in implementing the National Sports Policy tenure restrictions on Faisal Saleh Hayat. It declared PFF elections of 2015 null and void in June 2016 and ordered fresh elections to be held. Hayat filed an intra-court appeal and secured another hearing for 19 October 2016.

Epilogue

This abject mediocrity and Machiavellian politics masks football’s mass popularity Pakistan. People already love their favourite European clubs and local tournaments often attract good crowds in places like Lyari (Karachi), Chaman, Chitral, Faisalabad and more. One often wonders when will such a simmering interest be transformed into a true professionalised system that can compete with rest of world football and make things even more interesting at regional, continental, and global levels. For that to ever happen, Pakistani football shall have to deal with the oversized elephant in the dressing room named politics first. The notoriously slow and laborious judicial system in Pakistan means the LHC cases involving PFF will take the remainder of 2016 and even beyond without reaching a final, firm judgement. The courts would expect FIFA to either cooperate or not come in their way per national laws.

One wonders if the events of past one year and more is the crisis to end all crises in Pak football. But for that to happen, FIFA has to get involved and sort PFF properly. With Gianni Infantino edging Sheikh Salman to become FIFA President in February 2016, there was hope that FIFA would take a firm stance on PFF crisis and resolve issues regarding disputed elections, corruption allegations on development projects, alleged illegal World Cup ticket sales, and taking away the deserving wages of coaches. As Infantino’s pledge to vastly increase financial assistance to all member associations was approved by FIFA, the PFF crisis resolution becomes an even further need to be solved as Faisal Saleh Hayat would desperately want FIFA to back him and only him given the extra monies his federation will get and do whatever they liked for another term.

Since the takeover of PFF House, Hayat has not ceased to moan about not being allowed to do his duties on FIFA directives. He is expected to meet the FIFA Members Association Committee in early September 2016 to discuss progress of PFF constitutional reforms the last year and would certainly want FIFA to give him two years AFTER he returns to PFF House. Also, news suggests that Hayat even wants to get himself elected into the FIFA Competitions Organisation Committee. Despite no competitions involving Pakistan since May 2015, Hayat has been a member of the organising committees for the 2015 and 2019 AFC Asian Cups! For that he will have to go through FIFA’s integrity checks to be cleared to take part. Question remains that after evading any FIFA censure towards allegations of corruption etc, will Faisal Saleh Hayat again be allowed to dupe the system and again become part of another standing committee in world football? More committee roles mean more luxury travels, more freebies, and per diems whilst no football at home.

Many players formed their own association to protest the crisis and work for protecting their rights. How successful such an exercise will be in ending the impasse is difficult. Some members of the Pakistani football fraternity express fears that if the Hayat group is bad, the rival faction including Hafiz Salman Butt will be even worse because of his antics of 1990s. They feel Pak football is now caught between the devil and the deep sea, while others say Hayat is the biggest stumbling block in Pak football’s progress because of his self-centred glorification for 13 years. Also, questions remains over what exactly the LHC-appointed Justice Munir has done in over last 1 year heading PFF to correct whatever faults, and taking a hefty salary similar to Hayat’s when he remained in office.

Faisal Saleh Hayat attending a youth football tournament in Multan and being ‘crowned’ in 2015

Since the FIFA crisis began, it has repeatedly said of its ‘respect for national laws’ of its member associations to avoid any further investigations into post-Blatter FIFA. However, Infantino’s FIFA has attracted strong criticism for doing a lot of publicity towards reform but showing nothing substantial at all. It has managed to purge some Blatter era people but that seems merely cosmetic. FIFA still wants to protect its own core interests and ensure that no outsider interferes in its matters, so its reluctance in endorsing any independent oversight is no surprise. FIFA likes to support the incumbents in power unless they are absolutely forced to remove a shielding arm.

Sport organisations are often a corrupt mafia that only answers to itself. The whole façade of ‘sports autonomy’ has allowed some very nefarious characters to make fortunes and attain power for decades even in the most obscure of countries like Pakistan. With so much money going into your coffers and nothing really needed to show your progress, is it a surprise that no one would ever want to quit a country’s FA? There is a consistent pressure for FIFA to yield and it may even happen sooner rather than later. Because what happens at FIFA will decide what happens in PFF.

If FIFA is honest about ensuring football does not come into disrepute again, then by all means they should intervene and resolve the PFF crisis already in its second year now. Maybe another May 2015 style FIFA crisis will ensure they do.