By Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: On a day when Pakistan’s South Asian rivals learnt their 2018 World Cup qualifying fate, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) was continuing its battle against the government which according to the officials of the country’s football governing body “seems hell-bent on seizing its control”.
The PML-N government is being accused of underhand tactics of forcing district representatives into voting for their candidate in the upcoming elections of the Punjab Football Association (PFA) before trying its hand at the PFF presidency elections.
After first forcing the 35 district members to attend a meeting at the Sports Board Punjab (SBP) last week to launch Ali Noor Haider Niazi’s bid for PFA presidency, this time the government officials have allegedly lured them to the Punjab Governor House to confirm their support.
Noor’s nomination papers had earlier been rejected by the election commissioner which resulted in a two-hour armed occupation of the PFF House on Saturday.
In a news release issued by the Sport Board Punjab (SBP) on Tuesday, it said that it had reservations over the fact that the election commissioner for the PFA elections Nayyar Haider was the brother-in-law of PFF president Faisal Saleh Hayat.
Noor had filed an appeal against the rejection of his papers with the appellate committee set up to decide the matter with the elections due on Friday.
“The committee with three elections commissioner and legal representatives was deciding about his nomination,” a PFF official told Dawn on Tuesday.
The decision of the committee wasn’t divulged by the PFF officials till the filing of this report. However, they expressed disappointment at what they called government interference in the sport.
They termed it unfair that government machinery was being used for the elections and said that it could result in action by FIFA.
“For the PFF elections, I fear PML-N can ruin the process,” Hayat wrote on his Twitter account on Tuesday. “It it happens, strict action can be taken by FIFA as they don’t allow third-party interference in any affairs of its member associations.”
A FIFA spokesperson had earlier told Dawn it was “monitoring the situation” and on Tuesday reiterated that stance.
Whilst India were being drawn against Iran and Bangladesh against Australia in the second round of Asian qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, the PFF and the government’s tussle saw a new twist.
Pakistan’s road to Russia had ended in the first round when they were defeated by Yemen.
“Having earlier tried their way through the SBP, the Punjab Government is now picking up the PFA members from their respective districts by promises of goodies,” a well-placed source within the PFF told Dawn.
“They are bringing them to the Punjab Governor House where Rana Javed, the son of the acting Punjab Governor is hosting them.
“So the lust for capturing the PFF runs from SBP director general [Usman Anwar] to Punjab sports minister [Rana Mashood] and has now reached Shahid Zaman, the additional secretary to the Punjab chief minister.
“After meeting him, the members [of PFA] are being accommodated at the Punjab Governor House.”
The role of former PFF secretary Hafiz Salman Butt has also been questioned during this move by the government.
Hayat told reporters in a news conference on Monday in Lahore that Hafiz Salman is masterminding this government’s interest in the PFF.
Hailed by many as the man who was behind Hayat’s ascension to PFF presidency back in 2003, Hafiz Salman’s interest in the polls is to unseat the incumbent chief and take revenge for forcing him out of the organisation.
Banned for 10 years by FIFA for misconduct during his time as PFF secretary during the 1990s, Hafiz Salman’s ban was turned into one for life when Hayat got into power as he grew tired of his interference, well-placed sources told Dawn on Thursday.
“There seems to be revenge on his mind,” the source told Dawn about Hafiz Salman, a well-known football aficionado who formed Wohaib FC — the club which became the first from Pakistan to take part in the Asian Club Championship — in memory of his slain brother.