by Umaid Wasim
THE lavish extravaganza that is the FIFA World Cup was about to kick off in 19 days. Brazil was gearing up to welcome the world. Fans were arriving from all corners of the globe. The teams were going through their final warm-ups as the momentum built towards the month-long festival of football.
One person, though, was in a spot of bother. He’d paid almost double the prices for tickets to a few of the World Cup matches for his sons and few of their friends but he was yet to get them.
The first game his sons and their friends were going to attend, though, was Match No. 33 involving Brazil and Cameroon in Brasilia on June 23, 11 days after the World Cup had kicked off in spectacular style at Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians with a star-studded opening ceremony featuring J-Lo and Pitbull.
That man, however, had reason to be concerned.
He’d paid $375 for a match whose ticket for the same category – 1 in this case – was being sold for $175 by FIFA itself.
He’d paid for the tickets back in January and March. He’d also booked a ticket for Match No. 55 and No. 58 – eventually the round of 16 match between Argentina and Belgium and the quarter-final between Germany and France respectively – but by May 24, FIFA’s website was showing tickets for those games ‘weren’t available anymore’.
Problem was that he hadn’t paid FIFA or its ticketing associate MATCH services that was handling tickets for the World Cup in Brazil; instead he’d paid the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) for the tickets.
In what seems to be a breach — and a big one for that matter from what recent developments show — officials of Pakistan’s football governing body were re-selling tickets, and that too at a higher price.
FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke was suspended in October in the wake of the biggest crisis in football’s world governing body after misconduct allegations surrounding tickets for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The allegations, “unequivocally denied” by the Frenchman, were made by a consultant at a company that struck a deal with FIFA to sell tickets for the World Cup, but the contract was cancelled.
Valcke, who has been FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s right-hand man since 2007, is alleged to be the beneficiary of an agreement for black market sales of tickets at inflated prices.
The 54-year-old was put on leave on September 18 before being suspended for 90 days pending an investigation on October 8.
Unlike the PFF though, Valcke didn’t get any payment.
Emails seen by Dawn show the PFF pocketing money for around 84 tickets — with conclusive evidence pointing to 14 being charged for almost twice the price.
Deeper investigation into the matter unearthed PFF’s marketing consultant Sardar Naveed Haider Khan initially asking fans to contact him for tickets through social media website Facebook.
“Who all are planning to go…(Sic),” Sardar, controversially elected president of the Punjab Football Association (PFA) in April, wrote in a post on Nov 3, 2013 with the picture of the World Cup logo attached alongside it.
“Apply for tickets thru PFF … Non Participating Member Associations (NPMA) (Sic),” he adds in the comments section of the post on the same date.
He then adds: “Limited tickets will be available on payment basis. So select the matches, venues, category etc and contact me. (Sic)”
Sardar does mention FIFA’s ticketing website on the same post and then adds: “Once tickets are obtained, then we will plan with a tour operator. (Sic)”
Dawn understands that those social media posts will be deleted once this story is published or have already been deleted.
“Those tickets were only for the sponsors that I arranged for the PFF in my capacity as its marketing consultant,” Sardar told Dawn last month.
“There was no black market tickets sale,” he added. “The additional amount we charged was sponsorship money for events that were due to come after the World Cup.”
PFF’s audit report for 2014 doesn’t, however, particularly show that surcharge amount from the sale of tickets as sponsorship.
For every World Cup, FIFA has a purchasable allocation of tickets for those countries who fail to qualify for the quadrennial showpiece.
“NPMAs will have access to the following allocation of tickets from FIFA through the FTO: PMA Football Community Tickets: A purchasable allocation of tickets determined by FIFA, subject to availability and managed through TIMS, allowing each NPMA to determine the allocation and distribution arrangements of these tickets to its sponsors, NPMA officials, friends, family, guests and/or staff (for sale or on a complimentary basis),” says world’s football governing body in its ticketing regulations.
“All tickets will be subject to the requirements of a Ticket Allocation Agreement to be signed by the NPMA and FIFA, with restrictions on re-sales and commercial uses, as was the case for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.”
With restrictions on re-sales, it begs the question as to why those tickets were sold on. PFF documentation shows that as many as 48 tickets were sold to Sardar, who told Dawn that he had only 14, and he sold them on.
Of those, 14 were sold to the person who was getting edgy 19 days prior to the start of the World Cup.
Four of those were for the American and Brazilian friends of the two brothers whose father had made the payment to the PFF. The two brothers, who seem to be of Pakistani descent, are also American and Peruvian passport holders.
In an e-mail addressed to the PFF president on May 24, 2014, which was forwarded to his general secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi on June 4, 2014, the man informs that he’d made the payment for the tickets in January and March.
“All hotels and flights are booked by our sons and one of them is unable to get a visa since the Brazilian Embassy in Washington wants to see a copy of the ticket with his name on it,” he adds.
He then details the three payments made by him.
In one payment, he says he’s paid $375 each for two $175 tickets, $440 each for four $220 tickets and $600 each for two $330 ticket. He adds that he deposited Rs400,000 ($3,710) via pay order on January 30, 3014.
In the second payment, he says he deposited a cash amounting to Rs236,280 ($2,200) on January 31, 2014. Those were for two tickets for the first semi-final in Belo Horizonte and he’d paid $1,100 for a ticket that FIFA’s website showed was for $660.
What’s even more questionable is that the amount, totaling $5910 was deposited into the account of Khalil Ahmed — PFF’s former administration manager.
A third payment was for tickets for two other people who he described as “friends and hosts” of his sons “in Brazil whose request for tickets was initially turned down on grounds of not being Pakistani nationals but later entertained.”
These two people were attending one group game and another round-of-16 match. They paid $375 each for two $175 tickets and $440 each for two $220 tickets.
Their payment, though, totalling $1630, was a cash deposit to the PFF account.
FIFA had a handling charge set at $41 for delivery of tickets outside Brazil. The PFF set it at $65.
In all, the PFF ordered 84 tickets according to documents seen by Dawn.
Apart from those given to Sardar, 14 were allocated to friends of PFF whilst 12 were handed over to a leading shoe manufacturer whose signature brand is named after a five-act grand opera.
Documents also reveal that out of 10 people who used those 26 tickets, only two were Pakistani nationals. One was Brazilian while seven others showed their American nationality.
Nonetheless, Sardar claimed that the PFF, through a sponsorship programme by the sale of tickets, received Rs800,000-1,000,000 – which is in PFF’s records.
His comments were published in Dawn on Nov 7.
But such a sponsorship programme would fall foul on FIFA’s ticketing regulations.
“According to the legal framework in Brazil, the resale of sporting event tickets, at a price superior to the one indicated on the ticket, is prohibited by Article 41-F of Law No. 10,671/2003 (the “Fan Statute”),” FIFA said in its ticketing regulations.
“Article 41-G of the Fan Statute considers it a crime to supply, deviate or facilitate the distribution of tickets for sale at a price superior to the one indicated on the ticket.
“In addition, according to Article 16 of the FIFA World Cup General Law, anyone who sells, offers, exposes for sale, negotiates, deviates or transfers tickets to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil or uses tickets to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil for advertising, sales or promotional purposes, as competition or sweepstakes prizes or uses the ticket availability for advertisement for these purposes is subject to civil sanctions and criminal penalties.”
In further documents seen by Dawn, the PFF remitted $36,065 to the FIFA Ticketing Office (FTO).
It had an overcharged amount of $5,460. The extra amount charged for the 14 tickets — as per the email by the buyer — wasn’t accounted for in that figure.
TICKETS FOR FANS?
Sardar claimed all the tickets he had were for sponsors but in a Facebook post on March 21, 2014, he wrote: “Football Fans…Few Tickets for FIFA World Cup-2014 Brazil can be booked…Group Matches, Round of 16, QF…Deadline March 24,2014. (Sic)”
Then on June 4, 2014, he posted: “One ticket of Cat-1 is available for the Grand Opening Ceremony and Inaugural Match of the FIFA World Cup-2014 Brazil. Any one interested call me (Sic).”
He claimed his email was hacked but what’s questionable is why did he not contact the authorities then.
Sardar continues to use the social media website till date, posting stuff about the PFF and its activities.
By May 2014, the PFF had received the tickets. Some 74 tickets were handed to an American national who was a personal friend of the PFF chief, as an email by the PFF to the FIFA World Cup Ticketing Centre in Rio de Janeiro seen by Dawn shows.
The tickets allocated to the PFF were 66 while eight tickets were allocated to its president.
Sardar claims the PFF was in contact with the Brazilian Embassy in Pakistan for visas for those who were carrying tickets named after the PFF and its president.
In two emails — on June 21, 2014 and June 28, 2014, he sends lists of those who were carrying the tickets to other PFF officials.
The emails show that even if Sardar was selling on the tickets in his personal capacity it was known to the PFF higher-ups.
Dawn sought a comment by FIFA and emailed the documentation to the world body.
“The respective documentation has been transferred to the relevant chamber of the independent Ethics Committee,” was the reply of a FIFA spokesperson last month.
“For the time being, we can’t comment on any possible preliminary investigation or the assessments of the information provided.”
The Ethics Committee was then contacted about a possible investigation into the matter.
“We don’t comment on any specific matters, but generally spoken, if there are facts on the table, we will analyze them,” Andreas Bantel, the spokesman of the investigatory chamber of the Ethics Committee, told Dawn last month.
“If this process leads to an initial suspicion, we will open formal proceedings.”
When asked if there seemed to be a breach, Bantel replied: “It’s too early to comment on any question of a visible breach.”
There was no comment by Bantel, when enquired last week whether a formal proceeding had begun into the matter.
Investigative reporter Nick Harris, who has covered FIFA for almost 20 years, felt the PFF case was similar to many others he’d uncovered.
“The World Cup is the world’s biggest single-sport event by a huge margin and there is always genuinely massive global interest in the tournament every four years,” Harris, who has exposed FIFA ticketing scandals in The Independent, www.sportingintelligence.com and also for the Mail on Sunday where he is currently chief sports news correspondent, told Dawn last month.
“In turn, tickets for World Cup games are among the hardest to obtain and among the most sought-after in world entertainment, and that creates an opportunity for corruption that unfortunately we have seen far too often.
“There are many documented cases of football officials using their privileged positions within the game to obtain tickets and then sell them for profit above face value, against the rules. From the documents and extensive material obtained by Dawn, this case appears to be similar. It is serious. It’s far too common.”
Harris, who exposed the Valcke scandal, also threw light on other scandals regarding World Cup ticketing.
“Back in 1998, I was tipped off that FIFA officials Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner were ticket touting at the World Cup in France, and that Blazer was even personally selling tickets for cash in hotel foyers. He denied, and FIFA did nothing,” he said.
“In 2006, Jack Warner siphoned off thousands of World Cup tickets meant for Trinidadian fans going to that summer’s World Cup and sold them via his family’s travel agency at massive profit.
“We exposed this and Warner faced a FIFA ethics hearing. They found him guilty of breaches of the FIFA ethics code but he was, in effect, let off without any punishment.
“FIFA was ridiculously weak. Warner has of course since been exposed as a serial tout and hugely corruption official, wanted by the American authorities on multiple criminal charges.”
FIFA has been embroiled in the worst crisis in its history since May by the US indictments of 14 football officials, including two FIFA vice-presidents, and sports marketing executives for alleged corruption.
Blatter is also suspended and facing criminal investigation in Switzerland. Valcke’s suspension too was a body blow to the world body.
“Earlier this year a source called me to Zurich where I was shown secret paperwork that demonstrated beyond doubt that Valcke had agreed to provide thousands of World Cup tickets for 2014 to an unauthorised agent for sale above face value,” informed Harris.
“We published the story that day and Valcke was suspended before nightfall.
“One can only hope FIFA consider all cases brought before them, whether it involves 80 tickets or 8,000. The principle is the same, people in power are abusing their positions for profit while fans miss out.”