By Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: Having been elected unopposed as Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) president for the last two terms, Faisal Saleh Hayat is set to face his biggest challenge in this year’s election — and that too from a former ally, Syed Zahir Ali Shah.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Football Association (KPFA) chief is all set to file his nomination papers on Tuesday for the PFF presidential elections which will be held on June 30, as he aims to bring Hayat’s 12-year reign as the supremo of country’s football governing body to an end.
“The events and the controversy of the last few weeks prompted me to stand against Hayat, with whom I’ve sided with for the last decade,” Zahir told Dawn after a meeting in Islamabad in which it was decided he will run for the post with the backing of the government.
Zahir, who is being backed to run for the PFF post by Capt Safdar Awan — the son-in-law of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — however said that the incumbent president raising objections that football was being politicised was untrue.
“I’ve been working as KPFA chief for the last decade and if they [Hayat and the current PFF] say that government is interfering, then they should look how they came into power [in 2003]. Wasn’t that with government’s backing as well?” he questioned.
Hayat, meanwhile, said Zahir had “stabbed him in the back” by announcing to run against him and accused him of using his brother-in-law, PFF’s Director of Member Associations and Projects Col Farasat Ali Shah for his own gain.
“I’m putting together the pieces,” Hayat told Dawn on Sunday. “I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back. The government is trying to rig the elections.”
This year’s PFF election race heated up ever since the government decided to pit a candidate against Hayat for this year’s polls. In the first step, however, the focus was on the provincial elections.
And the elections for the Punjab Football Association (PFA) saw controversy erupt. After the nomination papers of government-backed Ali Haider Noor Niazi were rejected, the government pushed their support behind incumbent Arshad Khan Lodhi and Rana Ashraf.
The PFF House, the venue for the PFA elections, was besieged on the day of the elections with Col Farasat, also the secretary of the PFF Electoral Committee, declaring the elections were postponed.
But an hour later, PFF declared its marketing consultant Sardar Naveed Haider Khan as the winner of the PFA polls.
It angered the opposition and there was more to follow when the PFF announced its election rules which said that “only a member of the PFF Congress, member PFF executive
committee, PFF elected official at AFC/FIFA for at least two of the preceding five years” could run for the post.
That saw Capt Safdar deemed ineligible to run for the presidency polls. “Since Capt Safdar couldn’t run for the post, they decided to convince Zahir to run against me,” Hayat said.
“Since I’m not one of their [government’s] cronies, they are against me,” added the PFF chief who filed his nomination papers on Saturday.
He added that Farasat and Zahir had connived to throw him out of power. “In the PFA elections, he [Farasat] acted unlawfully,” Hayat said. “He’s been scheming all this while being part of PFF and has joined hands with the government to get his brother-in-law [Zahir] into power.”
PFF chief terms KPFA president’s step as ‘stab in the back’
Zahir denied the allegations, saying it was the “unconstitutional steps taken by the PFF” which saw him turn his back on Hayat.
“The PFA elections are mired in controversy. They have damaged PFF’s integrity as several districts were deprived of voting,” he said in reference to the fact that Sardar Naveed won the polls with 15 votes while 20 other PFA members didn’t cast their vote.
“Similarly, they have inducted new members into the PFF Congress and made a mockery of election rules to ensure they are elected again.
“If there was a change, they should’ve called an Extraordinary Congress meeting for that. The constitution says that there were two women’s clubs in the Congress along with the PFF Women’s Wing chairperson [Rubina Irfan].
“But they made a change which saw the women’s champion team [Rubina’s Balochistan United] and two women administrators becoming part of the Congress. That means they get Rubina’s two votes.
“I thought it was high time I stood against this. Furthermore, for the PFF elections, they decided their own dates for submission of nomination forms without any consultation with Congress members.”
Hayat denied that, saying the rules were “in accordance with AFC/FIFA statutes which govern the PFF Statutes” and said that since they were in line with the world’s football governing body, there wasn’t any action by FIFA.
“If FIFA would’ve felt there was something wrong, they would’ve taken action,” he said. “Our statutes and
congress members have been ratified by FIFA.”
Hayat also questioned Zahir’s credentials for the post, saying the KPFA chief couldn’t deliver a Goal project, given by FIFA in 2006.
“That was given by FIFA to Azad Kashmir as a relief project to the 2005 earthquake but Zahir specifically asked us to shift it to Peshawar,” Hayat said. “It’s nine years now but it doesn’t even exist. That shows what he can do for football.”
Zahir, meanwhile, said that he’d tried his best to deliver the project in time but it was due to the PFF that the project has been delayed.
“PFF had issues with the contractor and wasn’t prepared for additional costs of the project,” he said. “Despite that, I arranged for government grants [in his position as KP health minister] but that funding which amounts to Rs50 million is still with PFF and they haven’t released it to me.
“I even arranged for a swimming pool and gymnasium at the [project] venue which, when outsourced, would’ve seen us run it smoothly but the grant was never released to me.”
Elaborating his manifesto, Zahir said that if he were to be elected PFF president, he would work on grassroots level.
“I’ve been advocating for the last several years that we need to pay more attention to the districts since they are our nurseries for developing talent and if I were to be elected PFF chief, I would emphasise that.”
Hayat, meanwhile, rued the fact that the government was so actively involved in campaigning for Zahir and emphasised that “government interference would result in a FIFA ban”.
“The Asian footballing community is seeing what our government is doing here and it has spoiled our impression,” he said.
He also said that the controversy had also affected his AFC vice-presidency campaign. Hayat is contesting the seat against India’s Praful Patel at the AFC elections on April 30.
“There is no doubt that my campaign, which would see Pakistan get a seat at Asia’s top table, has been affected,” he said.
“I’ve always said that Pakistan’s interests should be supreme but unfortunately the government doesn’t understand that.”