Football project in Jhang – the ends don’t always justify the means! [Dawn]

Football project in Jhang – the ends don’t always justify the means! [Dawn]

By Umaid Wasim,

When the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) was receiving the AFC Aspiring Member Association of the Year award in November 2013, an old friend was being conferred the Diamond of Asia accolade.

It was probably destiny that their paths had been intertwined again.

That man was honorary FIFA vice-president from South Korea, Dr Chung Mong-Joon who was being rewarded for his “philanthropic activities”, most notably donating US$400,000 to the PFF for rebuilding football infrastructure following devastating floods in the country in 2010.

That rebuilding never happened, only that the PFF was eager to get its hands on the funds as soon as possible as a series of leaked e-mails received by Dawn show.

Maybe it is due to the purpose those funds were sent for – maybe the purpose they were sent for was fulfilled without making the football training centre in the district of Jhang for which they were intended for.

The reputation of world’s football governing body FIFA has been tarnished after a series of scandals overshadowing its May 29 elections in which Sepp Blatter was elected for a fifth, four-year term.

But four days later after being elected, Mr Blatter resigned with FIFA being rocked by a number of corruption allegations that saw the FBI arrest seven of its officials, including two vice-presidents, from a Zurich hotel two days before the vote.

Swiss authorities, in the meantime, opened a probe into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively.

Know more: Russia and Qatar may lose World Cups ‘if bribery found’

In its aftermath, various bodies have released numerous documents, opening a Pandora’s box that is now seeing the awarding of previous World Cups shrouded in doubt.

Among those is a letter addressed to the FIFA general secretary and its second in command Jerome Valcke, by the South African Football Association (SAFA) who authorised the release the $10millon funding to the Diaspora Legacy Programme to a Caribbean official in exchange for helping South Africa host the 2010 World Cup.

Those funds were for then-CONCACAF president Jack Warner’s discretion. CONCACAF is the football governing body of North and Central America and along with CONMEBOL, the South American body, was hit hard by the FBI arrests of officials for racketeering, money laundering and kickbacks from sponsorship deals for tournaments in the region.

In another letter, released by the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), Valcke had authorized payment of 5 million Euros and a Goal Project to drop legal action against FIFA after France had knocked out the Irish in a play-off for the 2010 World Cup with the deciding goal coming after a hand-ball by French striker Thierry Henry.

Echoes of Valcke

In the case of the flood relief project in Jhang, the funds by Dr Chung were to be channelled through the Asia’s football governing body AFC – and its secretary Alex Soosay, who is currently suspended for an alleged ‘cover-up’ operation during investigations into the AFC accounts.

It is the dates during which the project was approved which are crucial: This was not for a vote on World Cup hosting, this was for a vote in favour of Dr Chung.

Dr Chung was a part of a three-way alliance with the-then AFC president Mohammed Bin Hammam of Qatar and Sri Lankan Manilal Fernando.

Bin Hammam was seeking re-election as president of the Asian body in the 2011 AFC elections, Fernando was hoping to be elected as a FIFA Executive Committee member and Dr Chung was promised re-election as FIFA vice-president from Asia.

In a wide-ranging investigative report by the Sunday Times last year, it revealed how they had planned to get themselves re-elected or elected to their positions. Amongst that also was how Bin Hammam used the promise of re-election as FIFA vice-president to Dr Chung to secure the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

In a special report last year, Dawn revealed how the PFF was involved in the awarding of FIFA’s showpiece tournament to Qatar.

The promise of re-election as widely reported saw Dr Chung, who was one of the 22 men on the FIFA Executive Committee who voted on World Cup hosting, vote for Qatar ahead of his native South Korea who were also in the race to host the tournament.

Back on the continent, at the AFC elections in January 2011, Bin Hammam, Fernando and Dr Chung needed votes from its 46 member associations.

Bin Hammam was already a popular leader for the PFF with its president Faisal Saleh Hayat addressing him as his “big brother.”

Fernando, in his position as FIFA’s development officer for Asia, tried to lavish Pakistan with numerous Goal Projects – FIFA’s development projects. Pakistan has, since 2004, received eight projects out of which one has been cancelled and just one has been completed.

The completed one is the headquarters of the PFF in Lahore, with the one in Peshawar being cancelled. In a special report last month, Dawn noted exactly how it was cancelled.

The PFF prides itself on the number of development projects it has received over the years. What, however, it does not talk about is the fact that it has failed to build all but one of them – just like it did with Jhang where they were allotted $650,000 in all by Dr Chung and the AFC.

Crucial timing

It is the awarding time of the project which shrouds it in doubt. Awarded on Oct 19, 2010, in wake of the devastating floods that hit Pakistan in July, Hayat lauded the gesture.

“Such supportive gestures will never be forgotten,” Hayat is quoted as saying in a PFF news release issued on that day.

A day later, in one of many e-mails which have since been intercepted and leaked, Fernando told Dr Chung that a number of countries including Pakistan had agreed to support him in the coming year’s elections.

Two months on, however, Dr Chung was unseated by Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein as FIFA vice-president from Asia. And a week on from his election, the Jordanian claimed there was significant “pressure” put on national federations to support a bloc of candidates led by Chung.

More crucially for the PFF, with Dr Chung out of power the project in Jhang — Hayat’s ancestral home — was now hanging in the balance.

More crucial was the money at stake. And by November 2011, the PFF was getting jittery.

“They were getting worried that with Dr Chung having lost his seat [he was later made honorary FIFA vice-president later] and Bin Hammam also gone, they might just miss out on the funds,” a person with the knowledge of the situation told Dawn. Bin Hammam got elected as AFC president but was suspended for allegations of bribery as he launched an unsuccessful FIFA presidency bid against Blatter in May 2011 and was later banned for life in July 2012.

Fernando also won the FIFA ExCo seat but was provisionally banned in May 2013 before his life ban was upheld by CAS in March this year.

As e-mail exchanges in November 2011 between PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi and Soosay show, the PFF was keen to get their hands on the funds as soon as possible.

The PFF noted several times in the e-mail that the affected people in Jhang needed the project as soon as possible — so hastily were those e-mails written that in one of them, the subject line mentions flood as “fllod.”

The AFC had responded to a letter by the PFF in October regarding the transfer of Dr Chung’s donation but the PFF wrote again in November for an early release of the $250,000 which had been allotted by the AFC.

The AFC then asked for a plan to which the PFF replied with a break-up of the costs incurred for the project in which it said it would generate funds amounting to $119,000 with the project costing a total of $769,000.

Master plan

Soosay then directed the PFF to send an architectural plan of the project to them, which it did but in that e-mail, there was no mention of the fact that the land had been acquired or not.

FIFA Goal Project regulations ask the member associations to provide a document that the land has been acquired on a 30-year lease. This, however, was the AFC. Any development project in return for a favour come under bribes, according to FIFA.

The funds were transferred by Soosay to the PFF while almost four years on, the flood relief project in Jhang hasn’t even begun.

On May 7, Dawn wrote to the AFC seeking a statement from Soosay regarding the project but a reply never came and six days later, the AFC suspended him for corruption allegations.

In what will bring further embarrassment to the Pakistan Football Federation and the Asian Football Confederation, the design plan for both the Jhang Project and the Karachi Goal Project bear a striking resemblance.

The design plan for Jhang Project
The design plan for Jhang Project
The design plan for Karachi Goal Project.
The design plan for Karachi Goal Project.

According to reports in his native Malaysia, Soosay allegedly asked for evidence to be removed during the 2012 PriceWaterhouseCooper (PwC) internal audit that was prompted by claims of malpractice by Bin Hammam.

In that report, Bin Hammam transferred an amount of $15,000 to the PFF for the 2010 U-19 Championship qualifiers. “We don’t know why the AFC president would be making personal payments [of some significance] to member associations,” the PWC observed.

As the probe into FIFA widens, experts believe the AFC will also come under the scanner — and with it, the PFF as well. The PFF, however, remains unfazed.

“We’re clean, we’ve done nothing wrong,” Lodhi told Dawn on Friday.

The PFF openly backed Blatter in the FIFA elections in May but with the Swiss resigning, it has put it in a delicate position with more and more revelations coming out and the investigation broadening.

“Blatter is still FIFA president,” Lodhi told Dawn. “We’ll see [to it] when he leaves [after the Extraordinary Congress].”

Dr Chung, meanwhile, is considering to join the race to replace Blatter. As far as the Jhang project is concerned, it is no more. Nor is there an immediate plan to start building it.

What’s happened with it sees Consequentialism in its purest form. Had it been built and had it been training football talent, the PFF could’ve said ‘the ends justify the means’. For the time being, at least, they don’t.