Govt sets sights on football now: Is Pakistan risking FIFA ban? [DAWN]

KARACHI: Having already incurred International Olympic Committee’s wrath, the Pakistan government seems unperturbed as it has set its eyes upon taking over the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) which would possibly lead to world’s football governing body FIFA taking action.

Pakistan came perilously close to a ban by the IOC last year when the government made a parallel Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) body to the one that was recognised by the international body and well-placed sources told Dawn on Tuesday that the present PML-N government has laid out its plan to take over the PFF — albeit by force in the upcoming elections.

And in its first step, the government is trying to seize hold of the Punjab Football Association (PFA) in the elections of the PFF provincial football associations on April 17.

With the polls for the district football associations having already been held and a member each having been elected to the provincial council, each of the 35 members from the country’s largest province has been contacted by the government to support its candidate.

The provincial football association elections will see the 35 committee members elect one president and five vice-presidents.

“Each member has received a call from a number (0519222666) which is of the coordination committee in the PM House in Islamabad,” the source said.

“The members have been asked to attend a meeting at the Sports Board Punjab (SBP) office at the Lahore Hockey Stadium on Thursday where Noor Haider Niazi, a former MPA from Mianwali and a son-in-law of the ruling family, is likely lay down his manifesto for candidacy from Punjab.

“The meeting is not to convince the members but to force them into voting for him with each of the 35 members having been asked to attend otherwise they will use force to bring them. They have been asked specifically to vote for a government-sponsored candidate.”

There is a twist to the tale, though, with current PFA president Arshad Khan Lodhi being a member of the parliament from PML-N.

“The incumbent president is clean to re-run from the post but the understanding is that he will not stand in favour of his party member,” the source added.

The development saw 28 of the 35 members of the district associations from Punjab hold an emergency meeting at the PFF House on Monday night where they backed the current set-up led by Faisal Saleh Hayat.

By getting their representative elected in Punjab, the government is then likely to field Capt Safdar, the son-in-law of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as Hayat’s rival in the PFF presidential elections in July, sources claimed.

Faisal Saleh Hayat (l) vs Capt Safdar (r) in July 2015 PFF Elections?
Faisal Saleh Hayat (l) vs Capt Safdar (r) in July 2015 PFF Elections?

“There, by using their political influence, they hope to topple Hayat,” the source claimed.

In July last year, the government was forced to recognise the Arif Hasan-led POA and suspended the body of Akram Sahi.

There have been reports that the government is also fed up of what it alleges “corruption” in the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) which is consistently demanding funds to run the game in the country.

Rumours are that the government will force the current PHF setup to resign in order to impose its own people to run the national game.

The PFF, meanwhile, despite its appeals for government support claims it manages its affairs solely on funding by FIFA and Asia’s football governing body, AFC.

“There is no government support for football and now it wants to take over the game,” the source claimed. “Even when the Pakistan-Yemen World Cup qualifier was postponed due to security issues, no government official was present there.”

Last month, the second leg of Pakistan’s first-round qualifier for the 2018 World Cup was shifted from the Punjab Stadium in Lahore to Bahrain in wake of the suicide bombings on two churches in the city’s Youhanabad neighbourhood.

“There is no justification for direct government intervention in the governance of the game [which will be if relatives of the government were to run the PFF] and Pakistan could face FIFA sanctions which might also see it being banned,” the source added.

FIFA has strict rules on government interference in its member associations. Articles 13 and 17 of the FIFA Statutes oblige member associations to manage their affairs independently and with no influence from third parties.

Last year, the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) was suspended by FIFA after government interference. The Pakistan government is trying to get in the PFF through elections but getting elected by force would come under government intervention.

And FIFA will take note if that is done.

“FIFA has the mandate to control association football worldwide, in all its aspects,” FIFA’s Director of Member Associations and Development Thierry Regenass says in a 2011 interview on the organisation’s website.

“This mandate is delegated to the national association, to control association football at the national level. This is about managing, controlling and developing football as a game and also the organisation of the game in general.

“The associations have the obligation to do it on their own, in an autonomous way without outside interference, from the government or any other parties. In general, political interference is when a government tries to take direct control.”

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2015 by Umaid Wasim