In Pakistan, it is usually said that laws are made by politicians but implemented on the ordinary folks whilst the same politicians have the audacity to rise above those very same laws. There is something very similar to what happens within Pakistani sport, where the most powerful of men from Pakistani politics and bureaucracy come to take office and end up turning it into their personal fiefdom without letting the laws of land affect them one bit.
The one very case is of Pakistan Football Federation, an organisation founded by Quaid-e-Azam in 1948, which has seen very little success on the field in nearly 70 years. Yet, it has been centre of attraction for many high and mighty of Pakistan’s ruling elite. Ex-patriots, judges, politicians and feudal landlords – basically, everyone except footballers have all come and ruled this federation. Unfortunately, till date, the PFF doesn’t have a training or playing facility of its own.
Football in Pakistan has gained unprecedented popularity since the turn of the century with cable TV and internet playing key role in providing an alternative for the urban masses, with cricket serving as the main source of sports entertainment and physical activity. This was also the time when Pakistani public expected its football federation to wake up and capitalise on the rise in popularity of football and channel it towards the local game. However the realisation from the football federation never came and we look at why.
The year was 2003, Pakistan was under dictatorship and the favourites were in key positions everywhere in the country, not even sparing the sports federations. So when the football federation elections came up, it was just another chapter of the malicious novel. The powerful handpicked the then interior minister, Faisal Saleh Hayat, who had left PPP to join hands with the rulers, taking on once loyalist Mian Azhar who had been head of the PFF since the 1990s. Azhar had already been used and dumped by the governance and was absolutely powerless when it came to the federation elections. Faisal had already flirted with football in 1994 when he was a PPP minister but still lost out to Mian Azhar. However, in 2003, he wasn’t to taste defeat because as an interior minister he had done his homework that included using the state machinery in whipping votes for him to come in power.
As more stories come to light after 12 years and 3 terms of rule by Iron Fist, it is of no surprise why Faisal opted for football, given he had no belonging to the sport whatsoever as an administrator or promoter of the sport in his native Jhang, where even after his 12 years regime, the football scene is non-existent. Whilst Pakistani football may have made painstaking progress in these 12 years, the federations President has surely progressed far quicker into the upper echelons of the football.
The PFF chief has enjoyed 12 years unopposed making any demand of accountability or transparency to the Pakistani public a pipe dream. The government of Pakistan is even unable to enforce the laws of the land because PFF says it is only answerable to FIFA and AFC as was the case in recent attempt by the government to enforce the National Sports Policy 2005 which limits the tenure of heads of sports federations. Whilst the PFF says such tenure restrictions are in violations of FIFA Rules, which is of course false and misleading because across the border, India has implemented the very similar age and tenure restrictions in line with national sports code of India as well as implementing Right To Information Act. FIFA has taken away the age and tenure restrictions on its own President in order prolong Sepp Blatter’s charge as FIFA President but in no way FIFA instructs the same for its member Associations. And the most ironic thing regarding the National Sports Policy 2005 is that it was passed when Faisal Saleh Hayat was a cabinet member.
So why are there accusations of PFF becoming a Personal Fiefdom of Faisal, Personal Friends of Faisal than Pakistan Football Federation? Well most of the points have been well documented over the years and remaining came to light in the last few weeks after Faisal finally faced challenge to his PFF reign from the governing PMLN followed by his former ally Zahir Ali Shah of KPK FA.
You only have to look at the PFF and its management to see that there is some weight behind those who call it a fiefdom and criticise the way the organisation has been run for 12years, with an iron fist. It all starts with brining his political allies and colleagues into Pakistani football circles who have gone on to do absolutely nothing or bare minimum in certain cases but continue to get elected and enjoy the perks that come with it.
In 2005, Pakistan saw the introduction of women’s football after FIFA made it compulsory in order to continue funding football to its member associations, PFF welcomed it with open arms and to run the women wing of football Faisal chose Senator Rubina Irfan, who then was an MNA and hailed from the Kalat family of Balochistan and a fellow PMLQ colleague at the time. To Ms Irfan; credit she has since gone on to set up a football club and win the championship with it earning a right to vote in PFF Congress at the expense of 2 of the most established clubs who had their voting rights taken away recently.
Away from having personal choice candidates nominated for PFF Congress the PFF’s office staff appointments have further emphasised the fiefdom claim. Apart from Rubina Irfan, up until last year, Farishtae Ali Sharifi had a congress vote and was women committee member with absolutely no football background and is considered a close associate. Sharifi was removed from PFF women committee last year as PFF constitution but returns in the frame to contest the women committee elections again next month. Another such figure who has benefitted from Faisal’s regime is Syed Nayyar Hasnain Haider, a retired bureaucrat who made it to PFF Congress via Police vote has gone on to serve in the Asian Football Confederation and FIFA despite no longer having the police vote, no other PFF Congress member has enjoyed such rise into the power circles of world football. Nayyar is now part of elections committee which has held questionable provincial elections and will hold the PFF Elections. One wonders if any thoughts were given to conflict of interest when Nayyar was elected to the Election Commissioner, given FIFA strongly advises against such appointments.
With a new alliance, said to be backed by the powerful, challenging Faisal’s 12 year reign; the seasoned politician was quick to tighten the rules on many fronts, taking away votes for certain clubs which he had given prior to the 2011 PFF elections when he feared a threat an internal threat, a threat that never came. With more independent voters, there looms a threat they are out of his control hence curtailing their voting rights and trimming down the numbers are seen as best way. Out of the 9 Provincial members +1 of Islamabad the PFF took them on all expense paid trip to Bahrain to attend the AFC Congress as ‘observers’ which many have considered as pre poll rigging and in violation of elections regulations of the Asian Football Confederation.
The PFF is unaccountable to the people and government of Pakistan when it comes to funding and appointments and continues to remain above and beyond the law.
For Pakistan football its ‘now or never’, another 4 years of current regime means final nail in the coffin, whilst a change of guard may allow us to see what else went on for 12 years which requires the nation’s attention. Football is politics and football is power, Faisal Saleh Hayat the politician and interior minister was perhaps not as powerful as the Faisal Saleh Hayat the PFF President, because here he is above the law of the land.