by Ali Ahsan
World football has completely turned upside down since May 2015. FIFA and its various continental confederations are facing a major investigation from the American FBI and Swiss authorities for corruption and racketeering, leading to the arrest of its senior executives. FIFA’s own Ethics Committee decided to also suspend its once all-powerful President, Sepp Blatter and various senior football officials worldwide accused of corruption. The seedy world of football politics and administration continues to unravel and expose its inner workings to the press and public, with legendary British investigative journalist Andrew Jennings at the forefront after more than a decade of investigating FIFA. Many football associations worldwide, including football powerhouses Germany and Brazil are also under investigation by local authorities for corruption and bribery as result. FIFA clearly is under turmoil, with some speculating these investigations could even lead to its total disbandment as an organisation before a planned presidential election in February 2016 to replace the much-disgraced Sepp Blatter.
Pakistan itself hasn’t been far behind in this regard. The Pakistan Football Federation under its President Faisal Saleh Hayat is facing the heat at home and abroad for accusations of corruption over the last 7-8 months. These range from mismanagement of various FIFA and AFC development projects, football elections deemed illegal by the Lahore High Court, PFF splitting up into rival factions because of those elections, LHC appointing a retired judge as PFF Administrator to audit and re-hold elections, accusations of taking away wages of coaches promised under the AFC AID-27 development program (now known as AFC Financial Assistance Program – AFAP), and now a latest scandal involving illegal sales of 2014 FIFA World Cup tickets involving PFF officials that is likely to be investigated by the FIFA Ethics Committee.
The Faisal Saleh Hayat group has regarded these accusations as baseless propaganda from the rival faction led by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa FA President Zahir Ali Shah in connivance with the ruling government. It also says the LHC orders, court-appointed administrator, and FIA enquiries into its financial accounts are government interference in a ‘private body’. The rival faction, after being blindly obedient to Faisal’s whims for 12 years, now claims it follows the moral high ground when they never for once ever tried to address the gross issues facing Pak football. Its overtaking of PFF HQ in Lahore has done nothing for saving Pak football either, instead made it a bad soap opera too reminiscent of a prime time political TV talk show.
These developments haven’t gone unnoticed in the crisis-ridden football world, though seemingly not many in Pakistan are taking any interest in this regard. Much of Pakistan’s sports journalism community and media seems totally preoccupied with all things cricket, with only a handful actually covering domestic football, and even fewer investigating any misconduct – real and alleged – of the PFF. Even world football’s corruption investigations and indictments have barely registered any interest in Pakistan despite the fact that it also impacts on future of Pakistani football and the PFF too. Look at Germany; little over a year since its historic 2014 World Cup victory in Brazil an extensive investigation by Der Spiegel revealed that Germany may have won the bid for hosting the 2006 World Cup with an illicit slush fund for bribing FIFA officials. This prompted major media attention on the German FA (DFB), prompting DFB president Wolfgang Nierbach to resign following police raids on DFB offices to investigate tax evasion.
Not surprisingly, none of the under-fire PFF members or executives have resigned and this crisis has inflicted heavy damage to Pakistani football. PFF has pulled out of various AFC youth tournaments as well as withdrawing Pakistan from the upcoming SAFF Suzuki Cup 2015 to be staged in Indian state of Kerala later this month. Also, the Pakistan Premier Football League – given its still run by PFF for 10+ years rather than be an independently-run entity as is a worldwide norm – has been indefinitely postponed, thus hampering domestic football too. Not surprisingly, these steps attracted a lot of scorn from players, coaches, and football followers accusing PFF of playing politics rather than actually doing something for football despite the crisis.
I had written previously that under-fire FIFA must take a firm stand if it truly values transparency and justice when it sent sending a fact-finding mission to meet both rival factions and report back to football authorities in Geneva. Usually that would have meant forming an ad-hoc normalising committee to run PFF as FIFA often does in various member countries’ rife with football factions. However, FIFA decided to not only allow Faisal Saleh Hayat to continue for another 2 years maximum to reform PFF constitutional statutes and hold fresh elections, but also endorsing the Changla Gali elections which LHC had declared illegal for violating a court stay order. It even deemed LHC-appointed administrator as government interference that could lead to a ban, but the courts remain adamant that FIFA also respects national laws and courts.
It won’t be the first time FIFA and national courts of its member countries are at loggerheads; FIFA and Court of Arbitration of Sport had upheld the 2013 election victory of its controversial former executive committee member Worawi Makudi as Football Association of Thailand (FAT) president, but Bangkok courts refused to recognise his victory and convicted him of massive electoral fraud. Eventually, Makudi ended up being suspended in October 2015 by FIFA’s own ethics committee for corruption whilst sending a normalisation committee to resolve the FAT crisis. Thailand isn’t alone; football powerhouse Brazil has also seen its own football confederation (CBF) stopped by local courts from holding elections to fill posts vacated by numerous resignations, suspensions, and arrests of its senior members. Similarly, Bolivian authorities have arrested its football association president Carlos Chavez – also the Treasurer of CONMEBOL – for corruption allegations and awaits trial.Similarly, the last three presidents of CONMEBOL have also been arrested by authorities, while FIFA stays mum about it.
This is where FIFA moves protecting Faisal Saleh Hayat’s PFF continue to be criticised by football followers in Pakistan and worldwide rather than taking necessary action. Then the AID-27 and World Cup tickets scandal hit the PFF almost simultaneously earlier this week. Evidence related to these two scandals has been forwarded to the FIFA Ethics Committee that could mean an investigation and even suspension of officials deemed responsible for breaching FIFA rules and statutes. Some of the main accused of these scandals include PFF General Secretary Lt Col (r) Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi, PFF Vice President (and controversially elected Punjab FA president) Sardar Naveed Haider Khan among others. One would not be entirely wrong to assume that whatever PFF or its officials are alleged to have done in either case would not have been possible without the knowledge, if not consent, of its all-powerful President. Interestingly, the main name in the World Cup tickets scandal – Sardar Naveed – gave a denial to the press a month before the actual story broke as a pre-emptive strike, but since then has remained mum!
There has to be a thorough re-evaluation of how football is governed at national, confederation, and global levels. The degree of autonomy provided to member associations to protect them from government interference has been abused with impunity by power-hungry officials to consolidate their own power, marginalise opponents, crackdown on dissenters, and climb up the ladder of world football administration with nothing to show for at home.
Pakistan, and especially the PFF, seems to be part and parcel of this phenomena that has ruined the beautiful game. Faisal Saleh Hayat’s 12 uninterrupted years in power in PFF have nothing to show apart from bare minimum formalities to satisfy continued FIFA and AFC funding without any independent scrutiny. Pakistan continues to be among the worst ranked teams in Asia and can hardly claim anything to show even at the South Asian level! Domestically, the standard of football barely remains the same at best and has badly declined at worst with department-centric teams, zero professionalism, and scant grassroots work. PFF still does not have its own dedicated playing or training facility for the Pakistan national senior and junior teams after 12 years of Faisal!
One would ask FIFA is it really worth protecting corrupt officials now? The world body has to not only clean its own act but also impose drastic reforms on all member associations – especially those known for corruption and mismanagement – with adequate penalties for those who have brought the game into severe disrepute. It certainly is now time for FIFA to review their previous decisions on PFF and thoroughly investigate these corruption allegations and also take LHC’s stance on PFF seriously as well.
Would FIFA be willing to finally take a firm stand in this regard if it’s serious about saving world football’s image from corruption scandals that now stretch to its every nook and corner?