FIFA project in Peshawar — Pakistan football’s ‘lost’ Goal [DAWN]

Peshawar GOAL Project illustration by UrbanPK
Peshawar GOAL Project illustration by UrbanPK

by Umaid Wasim.

Shahi Bagh was the venue. The lush gardens built by the Mughals, the sub-continent’s most glorious rulers, were destined to see Pakistan’s next generation of footballers hone their skills. The plan was to have a training centre of football installed there, besides the Arbab Niaz Cricket Stadium.

It was not to be, however, in another classic case of Pakistan football’s failings. Funds were given left, right and centre yet it wasn’t completed. Those funds, given by the government and amounting to Rs50 million ($500,000), lie with the PFF, which has in the past been lamenting about the government’s lack of support for the game.

It is now happily getting the interest it earns from that money.

PFF proudly boasts it has received eight Goal Projects from FIFA in the last decade. One of them, though, in Peshawar is long gone. Originally awarded to Muzaffarabad for the earthquake in 2005 before being shifted to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa capital, it is being used as a tool to malign the other party in the lead-up to the PFF elections in June. In this special report, Dawn examines what happened to it.

“Is there anything wrong in earning interest from that money in the bank?” PFF’s marketing consultant Sardar Naveed Haider Khan told Dawn on Tuesday. “We have Rs50 million the government gave us and the interest we’re earning on it is being invested back into the game.”

Asked if they should return the money since the Peshawar Goal Project failed, Sardar Naveed, the Punjab Football Association chief whose election to the post came in controversial circumstances on April 17, replied: “The money was given for the development of football and we’re using it exactly there.”

The PFF doesn’t make the audit report of its accounts public but Sardar Naveed says the “money is safe with them”.

But the Peshawar Goal project, which was once being made to safeguard the interests of football in Pakistan’s northwest and enhance it, now lies in ruins.

After, what the PFF earlier claimed was, inadequate support for the project in Kashmir, the project was shifted to Peshawar at the whim of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Football Association (KPFA) president Zahir Ali Shah who acquired a 61-canal land for the project.

And it was natural that when Zahir turned on his former ally, PFF president Faisal Saleh Hayat and sought to fight against him in the June 30 PFF elections, the ill-fated Goal project was mentioned.

“That was given by FIFA to Azad Kashmir as a relief project for the 2005 earthquake but Zahir specifically asked us to shift it to Peshawar,” Hayat told Dawn when Zahir announced his intention to challenge him last month.

“It’s nine years now but it doesn’t even exist. That shows what he can do for football.”

Zahir countered those allegations, telling Dawn he had tried his best to deliver the project in time but it was due to the PFF that the project is now over.

“The 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 the 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.”

The Peshawar Goal Project is one of eight Hayat proudly boasts he got “through his connections in FIFA and Asia’s football governing body, AFC”.

“These are the greatest number of projects FIFA has awarded to a single country,” Hayat says, even writing it down in his manifesto for this year’s PFF elections.

How many of them have been completed so far? Just one, the PFF House in Lahore.

A report by the Sunday Times last year, alleged several Goal Projects had been distributed across South Asia by now banned FIFA official Manilal Fernando to gather votes for the 2011 FIFA presidential candidate and now disgraced Mohammed Bin Hammam.

And the way work has been carried out on those projects provides a clear reflection to why they were given. The PFF and FIFA expect them to be completed by the end of the year.

However, it doesn’t expect the one in Peshawar to be completed. That project has been cancelled. Dawn asked FIFA about the status of the Goal projects in Pakistan but a spokesperson of the world’s football governing body never mentioned the one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa capital.

It is believed that the project fell foul on FIFA’s Goal Regulations. Pakistan Football has lost what the PFF believed to be a “vital project for promotion of football in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa”.

In the recent controversy surrounding Punjab’s football elections, the PFF terminated the services of its Director Member Associations and Projects Col Farasat Ali Shah.

Farasat, who was the PFF Electoral Committee secretary, said that the PFA elections, due on April 17, were never held due to a standoff between the PFF-backed Sardar Naveed and his rival, incumbent Arshad Khan Lodhi.

Later, when Arshad’s supporters and voters left the election venue, election commissioner Nayyer Haider – Hayat’s brother-in-law, who Farasat alleges never held the elections – declared Sardar as the winner.

That controversy saw Farasat’s brother-in-law Zahir stand against Hayat for the PFF hot-seat. Farasat got the sack and with the Goal Projects coming directly under him in his former post with the PFF, has now spoken on what actually happened on the Peshawar project.

“They simply cannot put the blame on Zahir because the Goal projects are controlled centrally – by the PFF – and not by the provincial football associations,” Farasat told Dawn.

“The main issue why it didn’t take off was the dispute between the PFF and the contractors. It failed because of a clash of egos.”

Farasat has been banned for five years and a PFF official told Dawn on Sunday that they are pushing to impose a ban on him by FIFA and AFC.

“We, the PFF, are the representatives of FIFA here so it naturally came under us,” PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi told Dawn on Tuesday.

“We’re the buffer between the contractor and FIFA and every bill has to be forwarded by us,” he added, contesting Farasat’s claims. “If we aren’t satisfied with the work of the contractors, we can tell FIFA about that.

“Yes, it was Zahir who arranged for the land on a 30-year lease from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and indeed it was he who approved the contractors.”

Hired initially as Director Clubs, Farasat was made Director MAs and Projects in 2011 and the first assignment in his new post took him to Peshawar.

“I went there along with Mohsen Gilani [Manilal’s assistant] who was there to check on the progress being made on that project,” Farasat recalls.

“Nawab Brothers were the contractors for the project with Naveed Aslam and Associates being their consultants on it.

“They had been approved by Manilal himself as contractors are approved and paid for by FIFA itself. Apparently, Hayat did not approve of the contractors because he wasn’t involved in their approval.

“Mohsen and I found faults of Rs900,000 ($9,000) in the project during our visit. Adding inflation costs, since the project started being built in 2008, I added another Rs200,000 ($2,000) to it and we asked Nawab Brothers to either fix those or hand over the project to us and we’ll deduct the amount from the bill.

“They decided to fix the issues and it was decided that a year later, we will take over the occupation of the building.

“The dispute began when another company, preferred by Hayat, was sent to survey the project. Hayat did that specifically because he didn’t want Gilani to go on the project.”

Gilani was contacted for his version on the issue but he did not respond to Dawn. Other sources who knew Gilani closely, told Dawn that his relation with Hayat blew hot and cold from time to time.

“The company Hayat sent was to specifically destroy the project since they accounted to Rs9000000 ($90,000) in faults. When you add inflation to that, it amounted to a total of Rs11.5 million ($115,000),” Farasat said.

That company, Anjum Adil and Associates, told Dawn it had merely done its work.

“Our job was to find the faults and we did exactly that,” a spokesman told Dawn on Monday. “I can’t of course tell you the figures because we are bound by our contracts but all I can tell you is that there were a lot of faults.”

Lodhi says the PFF wasn’t satisfied with the work of the contractors or their consultants.

“We weren’t satisfied with their work so we had to send an inspection team. That’s our duty, to find the faults and tell them to FIFA.”

Architect Naveed Aslam of Naveed Aslam and Associates, meanwhile, told Dawn that the inspection team arrived all of a sudden.

“We had made good progress on the project,” he told Dawn. “The faults [by Mohsen and Farasat] had been fixed by the contractor and we wrote to them for the handover of the project.

“Till then we had been receiving payments accordingly [something Lodhi also admits but says that the project was 75% complete] for each step until one fine day the inspection team sent by Hayat walked in without having informed us.

“It was all politics. I wonder why Hayat didn’t want us to complete that project. I’ve heard that there was some issue in the AFC, some dispute with Manilal.”

By that time, AFC president Bin Hammam, who Hayat termed as his “big brother” and whose right-hand man was his vice-president Manilal, had been disgraced in the 2011 FIFA elections for a bribery scandal.

Sepp Blatter was re-elected FIFA president. Manilal remained FIFA’s Development officer. He stayed in office till he was handed a life ban for his involvement in Bin Hammam’s bribery scandal in April 2013.

Lodhi wouldn’t comment on what ensued between Manilal and Hayat but said they still hold the Sri Lankan “in high regard for his services to Pakistan football”.

He recalled that after sending the inspection team, they stopped the payments to the contractor and the consultant.

But Naveed Aslam alleges the PFF “deliberately stopped their bills” from going to FIFA. Farasat adds: “Hayat wanted Nawab Brothers and Naveed Aslam and Associates out, this had become a war of egos.”

With the final payment yet to be given for the handover, there came another twist. The PFF decided to forcibly take over the project but the contractor wouldn’t budge.

“They refused since they had a contract with FIFA and they weren’t ready to leave the building as they hadn’t been paid by then,” Farasat says. “We couldn’t register an FIR against them for illegal occupation since they had been hired by FIFA.

“Hayat told that to Manilal and he was forced to cancel the contract with Nawab Brothers who eventually received $20,000 of the $50,000 they were due to receive for their work on the project.”

The remaining money was to be handed over once the pitch was ready, Naveed Aslam tells.

“But then, Peshawar High Court, in October 2012, ordered the provincial government to do away with all the structures at Shahi Bagh.”

A petition filed by the PFF against the decision was dismissed and the court said that the Town-I administration, which had handed over the land on the 30-year lease, had no authority to do so.

“Zahir should’ve known that the land he got would become centre of dispute,” Lodhi said. “This just shows his lack of will for the project.”

The PFF secretary, however, had no comment on Zahir arranging for more funds from the government in his expression of interest for the project.

Now, it was the contractors who were stuck with the building – and unpaid dues.

“They retaliated and took away all the furniture, electric fixtures, doors and windows that were installed at the venue,” Farasat tells.

“It lies in ruins now. Hayat did this deliberately because he wanted to have a contractor of his choice on the project.”

Naveed Aslam also blames the PFF for the failure.

“The contractors were left with no other option,” he says. “They had to recover their costs and despite several letters to Lodhi for the clearing the dues, they recommended FIFA for just half of it.”

But Lodhi says it’s Zahir who has to be blamed for the loss.

“We’d even accepted Zahir Shah’s proposal to name the stadium being built in the honour of his father,” says the PFF secretary.

“We’ve reason to believe that the contractor could’ve been stopped by him. He was then the head of KPFA and should’ve prevented the contractor from ransacking the building.”

While the Goal projects are solely funded by FIFA and all the payments are made from Zurich over the stage wise completion of work, the PFF also received a grant of $200,000 from the AFC for the earthquake relief.

Farasat admits he has no idea where those funds went but he and the PFF officials both admit that Zahir did his best to try and arrange for funds from the government for the project.

“Zahir wanted to build the initial structure of the project through the money received by the Goal project [FIFA’s fixed amount is $500,000] but he wanted to expand the project to include spectator stands on the sides of the pitch, a swimming pool and a gymnasium.

“And in early 2012, the PFF accounts swelled by Rs50 million ($500,000) — funds arranged by Zahir — for the additional facilities.”

The PFF proudly declares to have “completed work on Peshawar and Karachi development projects”.

The Goal project in Peshawar though is a structure bereft of any fittings and not on the FIFA files anymore.

It were those few days between the inspection team’s visit to the site and the Peshawar High Court’s decision on restoration of Shahi Bagh that the project was lost.

Almost three years on the building stays there, untouched by the court orders to demolish it but as a relic waiting for the sands of time to blow it away.

“It was those months in 2012 that the project was lost,” says Naveed Aslam. “Had the other inspection team not been sent, we would’ve completed it and it would’ve been running since the building remains there despite court orders.

“It is unfortunate for Pakistan’s football. Last year, I received an e-mail by FIFA that they had cancelled the project.”

Published in Dawn, May 21th, 2015