Faisal Saleh Hayat: The feudal lord of Pakistani football [The Nation]

Faisal Saleh Hayat: The feudal lord of Pakistani football [The Nation]

By Ali Ahsan (The Nation)

The words ‘Football’ and ‘Pakistan’ don’t seem to come up in the same sentences anywhere in the world. As a country ranked 194 of 209 FIFA Member Associations as of August 2016, Pakistan is the proverbial minnow of the ‘beautiful game’. Forever the strugglers in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the regional South Asian Football Federation (SAFF), the 200+ million country is known more for Cricket since independence from British rule in 1947.

Pakistan has had past successes in Hockey and Squash, but now even they seem distant as its sporting structure increasingly falls behind the standards set by the multi-billion dollar professional sports industry worldwide. Football — often condescendingly called the ‘poor man’s sport’ in the local press — does not seem to be among Pakistan’s priorities. Its national team has been in doldrums despite fleeting glimpses of promise, domestic leagues remain largely semi-professional and dominated by government ‘departments’. Few actively take an interest in the state of football nationwide, allowing a free hand to those in charge enjoying jet set lifestyles of football administrators around the world.

Sports bodies are very lucrative for many politicians, ex-military officers, and bureaucrats seeking more direct power as a side-career in Pakistan. The perks, privileges, junkets, and self-importance of sports administrators is not lost on our political elite. Many often fight amongst themselves to grab and keep control of the many sports boards across Pakistan, often resulting in long-drawn court battles, factionalism, corruption, and government interference. That truly reflects in the lack of progress and success of actual athletes in Pakistan. Lack of professionalization in the country’s domestic sports structure, scant competitive training and events, woefully scarce facilities, and reluctance of corporate involvement because of internal political squabbles means the local athlete simply cannot compete with the rest of the world.

Pakistani football is run by Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat. A shrewd politician and PFF President since 2003, many often joke that they can name the PFF boss much more easily than the current captain of the Pakistan national team! 13 years of uninterrupted rule in Pakistani football has allowed Hayat to also become an active part of world football administration at both confederation and global levels. Hayat sided with AFC head Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa from the Bahraini royal family in the FIFA Presidential Elections held in early 2016 to replace the now-disgraced FIFA supremo Joseph S. Blatter of Switzerland.


But Gianni Infantino won the polls and replaced his fellow Swiss as head of world football still struggling since May 2015 as authorities in USA, Switzerland, and others decided to crackdown, arrest, and indict various senior football executives around the world for corruption. Hayat himself in the middle of various corruption allegations involving PFF and a drawn-out legal battle at the Lahore High Court (LHC) after football elections in mid-2015 became disputed and divided the PFF into two warring factions that have brought nationwide and international football in Pakistan to a complete standstill.

The top division Pakistan Premier Football League remains suspended because of this crisis. The men’s senior team last played in March 2015 when they bowed out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers for Asia in the very first round. The PFF crisis — with nowhere in sight — has caused this massive drop in rankings and local footballers worried about their own futures due to zero domestic or international action. But despite allegations of breaking his own election rules, and tussles with the government, Faisal and his allies still enjoy FIFA/AFC support and attend every single AFC and FIFA congregation while the actual footballer suffers. But just who is Faisal Saleh Hayat?

His Holiness

With a political career spanning more than 40 years Hayat, comes from a powerful feudal family and studied at the prestigious Aitchison College in Lahore — Pakistan’s Eton where the scions of all prominent families often go for schooling — as well as King’s College in London. Alongside owning large tracts of agricultural land and real estate nationwide, Hayat’s family are also custodians of a prominent Sufi shrine in his native town of Shah Jewana in the Jhang district of Punjab province. A largely impoverished town 30km north of Jhang city, Shah Jewana is dominated by the tomb of the 16th century Sufi saint Hazrat Mehboob Alam Bukhari who is locally known as Pir Syed Shah Jewana.

The popular legend goes that the saint — a ‘Syed’ (honorific title for those claiming direct descent from Prophet Muhammad) — migrated from Bukhara to the Punjab region in order to spread Islam. Pir Shah Jewana gained a fast following and said to have been bestowed with miracle-healing powers. On his death, his shrine ended up becoming a permanent settlement where every year an annual Urs (death anniversary) is held attracting thousands of devotees from far and wide.

As a direct descendant, Faisal Saleh Hayat is the current Sajjada Nasheen (hereditary custodian) of the shrine just like his late father and grandfather before him. In each Urs, the shrine custodian has to be present in person for a number of days, reciting prayers and performing numerous rituals. One of the most important ritual is the Rasm-e-Chiraghan, a symbolic lighting of a lamp to not only continue the light of faith but also bestow long life to the incumbent custodian. Legend goes that if the lamp is not lighted by the living Sajjada Nasheen, it could spell his illness or even death — hence the reason why Hayat was absent from heading the PFF delegation at the FIFA Congress held in Mexico City in May 2016 as it coincided with the annual Urs.

Sufi shrines tend to generate significant revenues through tax-free donations and endowments from many devotees both poor and rich. The shrines give a lot of importance to the custodian families for involvement in local affairs. Many often send their children into government service and often marry them into politically important families to ensure their own importance is enhanced beyond the mere shrine itself. With the devotees a vital vote bank, it is no surprise that many Sajjada Nasheens have entered politics and have been key allies for state authorities in the region for centuries.

However, the changing social and cultural dynamics of Pakistani society — especially Punjab — means the importance of shrines has gradually diminished with each passing year. A growing number oppose shrine culture as being contrary to orthodox Islamic interpretations, while others simply lost interest. It is no surprise that as shrine revenues decline — including Shah Jewana’s — many custodian families want to ensure their prestige by diversifying their careers and sources of income.

Hayat’s political journey

Hayat has gained a reputation like many politicians in Pakistan for being never hesitant to change sides if and when the need arises. Hayat broke from his family’s previously non-political traditions and began to contest for the local parliament seats. Hayat’s was a member of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and served as a minister in Benazir Bhutto’s two, short-lived tenures in the 1990s.

The 1999 military coup of General Pervez Musharraf ousting the then government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), proving to be a game changer for many mid-level politicians. Many Sharif loyalists jumped ship and formed their own pro-Musharraf faction of the Pakistan Muslim League — Quaid (PML-Q). PML-Q would eventually be patronised to win the 2002 general elections to bring a token civilian government subservient to Musharraf. Many opposition politicians were jailed on corruption charges (as is often the norm in Pakistan), exiled, or promised ministries to lend their support to the Musharraf government. Faisal Saleh Hayat eventually formed a break-away faction — the PPP-Patriots — to become a coalition ally of Musharraf. He later joined PML-Q a few years later.

For his efforts, Hayat became Federal Interior Minister in 2002 till 2004 before being heading other ministries till 2008. He also become Housing Minister in the PPP coalition government for a year (2011–12) after a deal between PPP and PML-Q before falling out with his former party and quit.

Hayat was also accused of corruption as Housing Minister by his own officials as well as allegedly keeping as many as 12 government vehicles for his own usage for many months after quitting. He has also faced a myriad of corruption cases with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) from allegedly defaulting on loans to forcing unauthorised appointments as Minister. In the 2013 elections, Hayat was disqualified from taking part due to allegations of electricity theft and stealing irrigation water.

These allegations are not uncommon for almost every single politician and bureaucrat suspected of making a quick buck when in power. Corruption cases drag on for years with many granted bail without having to worry of any real jail time. These cases are then used as leverage for buying and selling ministries and loyalties every year. Hayat nonetheless still remains an influential figure in Pakistani politics with many political parties said to be interested in him for the 2018 elections.

But it is Faisal Saleh Hayat’s journey into football that is most intriguing.

Faisal and Football politics of 2003

Faisal Saleh Hayat’s native district of Jhang isn’t particularly known for its football. The District Football Association Jhang has a mere 6 registered football clubs that can vote in DFA Jhang elections usually held every four years in line with rest of Punjab and Pakistan. On the other hand, neighbouring DFA Faisalabad has up to 54 registered clubs with voting rights.

Hayat’s first tried PFF in 1994 when he contested against its then head Mian Muhammad Azhar, a seasoned PML politician. By 1994, PFF again was in crisis as Azhar had a major falling out with his own general secretary, Hafiz Salman Butt – a known football fanatic, owned Lahore-based Wohaib FC, and an important member of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Initially both Azhar and Butt worked together to reform domestic football in Pakistan as the old knock-out format National Football Championships was replaced with a league format Lifebuoy Football Championships for 1992–93 and 1993–94 that was even televised live nationwide and attracted crowds and sponsors.

However, the Mian Azhar and Hafiz Salman rift led to a complete breakdown in PFF and divided it into rival factions. Both sent their own respective Pakistan youth teams to take part in the Asian Youth Football Championship in July 1994 forcing a FIFA ban on the PFF. Azhar was able to use his presidency to gain FIFA’s support and ban Hafiz Salman from PFF, claiming FIFA also imposed a lifetime ban on the latter though Butt repeatedly rejected these claims. FIFA’s intervention in 1994 led to fresh PFF elections in which Mian Azhar was challenged by the Hafiz Salman-backed Faisal Saleh Hayat. But Azhar managed to win by just one vote to retain his Presidency and later won a third consecutive term in 1999.

As Azhar tried to consolidate his hold in PFF, FIFA was consolidating its own revenues and sought to develop football worldwide by sharing World Cup profits with its member associations through financial assistance programs that took off after Sepp Blatter took over in 1998 as ‘FIFA Goal Projects’. PFF would also gain access to FIFA funds given the scant federal government funding to it for many decades stifling any nationwide growth of football. FIFA funds worth at least a million dollars to PFF for its first Goal Project in Lahore attracted a lot of attention from the Musharraf government who audited PFF accounts through the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) in 2002. Hafiz Salman again urged Hayat to challenge Azhar in 2003, with the incumbent facing pressure to not contest. Hayat had casually expressed his interest in PFF to Musharraf, who immediately gave his full backing and Hayat became PFF President in 2003 unopposed. Former PFF Technical Director, Col (r) Mujahid Ullah Khan Tareen — whose vote in 1994 as Army representative in PFF helped defeat Hayat — would later reveal that he was witness to intelligence agencies’ role in 2003.

El Presidente

Hayat took his new role as PFF boss with great enthusiasm in his first term with significant backing of government and FIFA/AFC financial assistance. He started the Pakistan Premier Football League (PPFL) in 2004 as the top-tier league in Pakistan as well as continue hiring foreign coaches for the national team that began during final years of Mian Azhar and help a new generation of footballers emerge.

However, Pakistan went out in the first round of AFC qualifiers for the 2006 FIFA World Cup 6–0 on aggregate to Kyrgyzstan held at end of 2003. But eventually the effort paid some dividends in the 2004 South Asian Games held in Islamabad when Pakistan U23 — with Chinese coach Xiao He among the staff — beat their India 1–0 in a closely fought final at Jinnah Stadium that was broadcast live on TV.

A year later, Pakistan invited India to play a three match football series across the country in which Pakistan won on goal difference that further boosted Hayat. Also, PFF started national women championships in 2005, though the first ever final became a mass brawl involving the players. PFF had to follow suit because FIFA had made it obligatory for all its member associations to promote women’s game in order to keep receiving US$ 250,000–500,000 annual financial assistance grants.

Those funds were adequate to keep PFF afloat given football received scant funds from government sports budgets. This also mean that PFF had to showcase its financial struggles to world football for further assistance in developing the necessary infrastructure, coaches, referees, players etc. But such favours don’t come without strings as the multitude of scandals around football governance have shown in which such assistance is often meant to guarantee votes for senior officials taking part in football elections at national, regional, continental, and global levels.

Given Faisal Saleh Hayat’s vast experience in wheeling-dealing like any politicians, football politics would not be hard to learn. Hayat started making friends across Asia and eventually became close to Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman, who as the then Bahrain FA president gifted the services of Bahraini coach Salman Sharida in 2005 for a year with all wages paid for by BFA just in time for the 2005 SAFF Gold Cup being hosted by Pakistan.

Pakistan under Sharida carried a lot of hype as hosts because Fulham FC defender Zesh Rehman opted to play for Pakistan due to his parentage after not being selected for England. However, Pakistan were knocked out in the semi-finals to 2003 winners Bangladesh as India won the final. This would end up as only time Pakistan ever managed to cross the group stage of a SAFF Championship under Hayat as the team exited early in future editions.

Thanks to cable TV being accessible across Pakistani homes, international sports channels would air football almost every single day. A country that once used to huddle around their TVs every four years just to watch the World Cup could now watch the most famous names in football play for their European clubs. Football’s popularity skyrocketed in early 2000s across Pakistan among young kids and teenagers. The power of televised football had to be properly utilised, especially for promotion of the Pakistan national team and domestic football on a regular basis week in week out. But anyone who wanted to see Pakistani football on TV faced very scant coverage to this day.

In 2007, PFF joined hands with a private TV channel to bring the Geo Super Football League as an inter-city event televised live to boost the domestic game. It may not have had the insane money and celebrity endorsement as the Indian Super League that came much later, but the SFL was a novel concept that could have been a vital game changer for professionalising domestic football and offer a fan-friendly respite from department run football teams with no city following. The SFL was only played once more in 2010 and now seems permanently shelved with organisers complaining of PFF attitudes and demands. PFF is clearly in no mood to loosen its control on top-tier football in an era where professional leagues are meant to be independent in which the national FA is a stakeholder rather than final authority. It’s no surprise PPFL remains a mediocre league falling further behind in quality with rest of the region.

A Football Fiefdom

Hayat retained his post in both the 2007 and 2011 PFF Elections unopposed. However the walkovers in 2007 and 2011 did not pass off without controversy. Former PFF General Secretary and Punjab FA president Arshad Khan Lodhi had sought to challenge Hayat in 2007, criticised PFF in media for not doing enough for football and even moved a court petition. Lodhi attracted a 10-year PFF ban that would eventually force him to compromise with Hayat. The PFF boss gained a reputation of rewarding his allies and punished anyone who crossed him to ensure his grip remained unchallenged.

As Hayat’s power in Pak football grew, so did his moves to consolidate his position by taking steps to ensure not even the Government of Pakistan could challenge him. The 2005 National Sports Policy enforced term restrictions on all sports associations and boards across Pakistan, including the PFF. Hayat, despite being a federal minister when the legislation was passed by the cabinet, initially stayed quiet on the matter. But within a few years, he would challenge efficacy of the National Sports Policy by stating the government had no right to interfere in PFF as the latter was answerable only to FIFA or risk a ban.

Similar arguments were used when the government-administered PSB began a feud with the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) in 2012. PSB tried to stop Lt Gen (r) Syed Arif Hassan — POA President since 2004 thanks to Musharraf — from a third successive term as violation of the National Sports Policy and favoured Athletics Federation of Pakistan (AFP) boss Maj Gen (r) Akram Sahi for POA. POA took the matters to courts, arguing it answered only to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and that PSB had no right to interfere in POA matters. IOC backed Gen Hassan threatening Pakistan with a ban from taking part in IOC-sanctioned events. PSB was forced to concede in 2014 and Gen Hassan retained his post again after defeating Gen Sahi again in 2016.

Hayat’s PFF also challenged PSB’s intervention stopping him getting re-elected for a third term in 2011 by taking matters to the Lahore High Court (LHC) in 2012. The irony is that while Hayat and Gen Hassan may be allies in their fight against PSB, they were once at loggerheads with each other. POA had refused to cover expenses of Pakistan U23 football team in taking part in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou and ditching football from the 2010 National Games in Islamabad. PFF had to fund Pakistan U23s expenses on their own and persuaded POA to reinstate football in National Games.

Hayat entered world football by becoming member of the AFC Disciplinary Committee in 2007 (and later led in 2009–11), heads the AFC Legal Committee since 2011, and is member of the AFC Executive Committee since 2011. According to author James M. Dorsey, Hayat was a key figure in thwarting attempts to establish an AFC ethics task force to deal with issues of governance and mismanagement by demanding that he head it rather than Moya Dodd, a respected Australian lawyer and fellow AFC ExCo member. Hayat eventually got into the FIFA Disciplinary Committee in 2010 where he also served as member of the 2010 World Cup Disciplinary Committee. Since 2012, the PFF boss is member of the FIFA Strategic Committee as well.

Pakistan still struggled in world football with the senior squad often constantly seeing changes in coaches and squads on a whim. First round exits in the 2010, 2014, and 2018 World Cup qualifiers, failure to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup, poor SAFF Cups, and mediocre results in AFC youth tournaments constantly blight PFF. But Faisal Saleh Hayat was succeeding in the world of football politics regardless of football. Hayat may well be dreaming of becoming an AFC Vice President and even a coveted FIFA Executive Committee spot (now FIFA Council). He certainly tried to become AFC VP from SAFF in April 2015, only to withdraw in favour of India’s Praful Patel.

PFF often boast getting development deals with the likes of Qatar, Bahrain, Australia, and even international companies thanks to ‘personal relations’ but they have often turned out to be nothing more than mere gimmicks with little impact on Pakistani football. Being a seasoned politician Faisal Saleh Hayat has never been camera shy when it comes to discussing politics in Pakistan, and highlighting his list of achievements repeatedly as a ‘feather in the cap’. He often repeatedly cites his credentials as the man who has permanently changed Pakistani football through press releases and interviews. On Pakistan’s notoriously ratings-hungry TV talk shows where exclusives disclosures and scandals guaranteed public uproar, the PFF boss had it easy on football matters.

Pakistani media is not known for critically discussing sports governance issues. Even cricket, amid various crises in the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and Pakistani cricket’s flagging fortunes since early 2000s, does not get true in-depth approach required to understand its mess. One can imagine how utterly clueless the mainstream media would be on Pakistani football. Faisal Saleh Hayat would confidently speak to an obviously underprepared ‘senior TV anchor’ merely nodding along knowing nothing of what was going on in PFF. To such anchors, football is probably something their young kids watch on TV and nothing more.

Team Faisal

Hayat’s first term had people initially from the Mian Azhar — Hafiz Salman Butt eras, but 2007 onwards the PFF President started bringing his own to take hold of key positions in PFF and shun those who were either on his wrong side or wanted a freehand to improve football. One of Hayat’s key appointments were the likes of Lt Col (r) Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi (who is related of Arshad Lodhi) as PFF General Secretary, and Sardar Naveed Haider Khan as PFF Director Marketing. Hayat kept his 2003 ally Hafiz Salman at a distance to avoid any challenges but did appoint Wing Cdr (r) Pervez Saeed Mir — a former Pakistan Air Force (PAF) athlete and sports administrator — as PFF Director Technical because of Mir’s close ties with the JI stalwart.

Col Lodhi — having scant experience in football — became something of a rubber stamp for Hayat so that only he was the final authority in Pak football. Col Lodhi would often correspond on the PFF President’s behalf with FIFA, AFC, even international FAs, and made to run PFF on daily basis given Hayat came and went as he pleased. By choice or by compulsion, the retired army officer remains true to Hayat to this day as General Secretary.


Lt Col (r) Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi (PFF General Secretary) and PFF President Faisal Saleh Hayat

Sardar Naveed — a former Pakistan Hockey Federation official and uncle of singer Adnan Sami Khan — is an interesting figure. He served as PHF Director Marketing for a few years until leaving in 2006 amid speculation over falling out with PHF bosses and is rumoured to have earned as much as 20% commissions of the nearly Rs 90 million sponsorship money he brought to PHF. He was also the first Pakistani member of the Marketing Committee of world hockey’s governing body FIH for 2004–06 when PHF replaced him.

In PFF, Sardar Naveed got the same marketing portfolio — later becoming a ‘marketing consultant’ when PFF removed the Marketing Director position altogether some years back. He was certainly big on claims and gimmicks yet Pakistan’s national team got no serious TV coverage, the PPFL lacks a proper sponsor or broadcaster, and PFF’s corporate business relations are ad-hoc with many companies reluctant in becoming long-term backers of Pak football under Hayat. His own son Hassan Haider Khan, who is based in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, became the first AFC Integrity Officer in 2014.

Sardar Naveed was accused of illegally selling 2014 World Cup tickets at inflated prices. He denied such allegations both in press and on social media, but one couldn’t help seeing a resemblance with the infamous Chuck Blazer not only in appearance (sans beard) but also being deft in football wheeling dealing. Blazer, once a powerful US executive at both FIFA and CONCACAF, became an FBI informant that started the FIFA crisis of 2015 when American authorities decided to take action against Blazer’s tax evasion and corruption.


Sardar Naveed Haider Khan and Chuck Blazer

Sardar Naveed now serves as a PFF Vice President after he was controversially elected president of the Punjab FA in 2015 that triggered the PFF crisis.

Pervez Mir, previously in the PAF-run Pakistan Squash Federation, became a PAF-appointed PFF Congress member in 2003. As Technical Director, Mir was responsible for Pakistan’s national teams and nationwide senior and youth competitions. Mir mostly stuck to old methods organising tournaments in short time periods to avoid extra costs. The PPFL would often last barely 3–4 months and teams would play 30 matches and travel across the country that proved harmful for player development with substandard performances, questionable officiating, and even allegations of match fixing to favour certain departments and teams. Not surprisingly, the moment PFF crisis of 2015 began, Mir left Faisal’s PFF and is said to be back cosying up with the opposing faction.


Wing Cdr (r) Pervez Saeed Mir (ex PFF Director Technical) with Col Lodhi.

PML-Q senator from Balochistan, Rubina Irfan Karim was brought into PFF by Hayat in 2005 as the women committee member. Her three daughters — Raheela, Shalyla, and Sohaila — are members of the Pakistan women football team. Rubina — who is married into the Khan of Kalat family — also has her own women football club Balochistan United and has stuck by Hayat’s side for now. Other women committee members include the likes of Nadia Naqvi — a former PFF Director Finance who left in 2011 as part of some accountability gimmick but Hayat got her back into PFF by getting her elected on women committee in the disputed 2015 PFF elections. Another women member is Farishtay Ali Sharifi — a hitherto unknown lady rumoured to be an Afghan national whom Hayat brought into PFF during his 2nd term. Despite having no real football pedigree Ms Sharifi even represented PFF in AFC women coaching license sessions, and a FIFA Medical Conference despite no medical background either. She even made the PFF voters list for the 2012 POA elections!

Syed Khadim Ali Shah has been President of the Sindh FA unopposed for last many years and a PPP parliamentarian. Last year Khadim was among three PPP lawmakers (all relatives!) sent to jail by NAB on land revenue fraud, only to be bailed by courts a week later. Khadim has remained by the PFF boss’ side when the crisis began in mid-2015 by leading the three SFA votes in PFF Congress. He almost always accompanies Faisal Saleh Hayat on foreign trips to FIFA and AFC conferences worldwide, and in fact led the PFF delegation in the May 2016 FIFA Congress in Mexico City due to Hayat’s absence where he gave a memento to Gianni Infantino.


Then comes integrity officer and marketing manager Fahad Ayaz Khan who was appointed in 2014. A young MBA with no prior sports management experience, Fahad was with the PFF President’s son back in Aitchison College – this was confirmed by an ex-PFF official who also taught at the posh Lahore boarding school. His PFF career didn’t have the best of starts when Fahad got involved in a fracas with Afghan supporters at Jinnah Stadium Islamabad during the 2014 SAFF Women Championship but escaped punishment despite media urging authorities to take action.

Other Team Faisal members in PFF include the current Director Administration since at least 2009 in Maj (r) Jehangir Khan Lodhi. Maj Lodhi is said to be quite close to Hayat with ex PFF officials stating the former may have been employed in Hayat’s Shah Jewana Textile Mills for a number of years and became a sort of personal secretary for the PFF boss. Maj Lodhi took a break from PFF to spend time abroad with his family and returned a year later to the same role.

Syed Nayyar Hasnain Haider, a former AIG Sindh Police, was in 2007-11 PFF Congress representing Police, and is PFF-appointed election commissioner for Punjab since 2007. He ended up joining both the AFC Disciplinary Committee in 2009 and the FIFA Disciplinary Committee in 2013 – replacing Hayat in both roles. This meant both Haider and Hayat are the only two Pakistanis serving of a standing committee in both FIFA and AFC. Haider was in fact a member of the FIFA committee that banned Uruguay’s Luis Suarez for four months after biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in a 2014 FIFA World Cup game. But the most peculiar thing is in fact that both Haider and Hayat are related to each other – Haider is married to Hayat’s sister! It’s surprising that neither FIFA nor AFC bothered to check what seems to be an obvious conflict of interest involving family ties in governance.

Clearly having a meritocracy in PFF is the least of Faisal Saleh Hayat’s worries as long as funds keep coming in and no one challenges him at home or abroad in administration. His allies enjoy the jet set lives of football administrators too.

‘Feather in the Cap’

Hayat often boasts of helping Pakistan bring an unprecedented eight FIFA Goal Projects. Those eight projects are in Lahore, Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, Abbottabad, Khanewal, Jacobabad, and Sukkur. Also, PFF’s Vision 2020 plan, unveiled in 2008, aimed to make Pakistan among top 15 Asian sides by 2020. Reality is, only One out of the Eight is complete and running — PFF’s own headquarters on Ferozepur Road in Lahore with half of the building rented out to a multinational corporation. The remaining goal projects in Karachi, Peshawar, etc are far from complete after all these years despite millions of dollars being spent. Almost all are buildings for office spaces void of playing facilities like 3G pitches that Pak football desperately needs on the ground.

The Hawkes Bay Technical Centre, awarded in 2006 by FIFA and deemed ‘active’ by both PFF and SFA, is supposed to be for ‘housing and training the national senior and junior teams’ but its an incomplete, seemingly abandoned building having no power or running water, and a grassless dusty football pitch. FIFA development projects worldwide have often gone on without any accountability.


PFF Goal Project in Hawkesbay Karachi looks like an abandoned construction project (Photo: Dawn)

The Peshawar Project is also a sad joke. Originally awarded after 2005 earthquake for Muzaffarabad (AJK), it was shifted to Peshawar but nothing happening afterwards. Money for the Peshawar Project — $500,000 — remains in PFF coffers with FIFA calling it ‘cancelled’. One would be forgiven for thinking that Peshawar project became caught up in the PFF crisis of 2015, but reality is it was already dormant for years. The Peshawar High Court objected to its location at the historic Shahi Bagh locality and forbid any construction there.

Other projects across Pakistan remain in a similar state years. After repeatedly boasting of all projects being ‘close to completion’ or ‘active’, PFF ended up claiming that projects became problematic because FIFA directly released funds to contractors for work on the projects. Yet FIFA insists that the project completions are responsibility of the member association itself.

Interestingly, four of the eight Goal Projects were awarded around 2010. The timing raises many questions because back then the FIFA committee handling development projects worldwide was under Mohammed bin Hammam of Qatar. A 2014 story from The Sunday Times revealed documents detailing how Bin Hammam — AFC President and FIFA ExCo member at that time — used development funds etc to bribe football officials worldwide back in 2010 to not only ensure Qatar won its 2022 World Cup hosting bid but also to gather support for his own attempt to challenge Sepp Blatter for the FIFA Presidency in 2011. Bin Hammam not only failed at his FIFA Presidency challenge, but was also banned for life by FIFA for bringing football into disrepute through corruption by 2012.

The report revealed Bin Hammam’s trusty sidekick Manilal Fernando of Sri Lanka was making AFC members (including Pakistan) side with the Qatari by dishing out Goal Projects in 2010 and wired money to various national associations. PFF, of course, denied the allegations and even threatened to take legal action on Dawn journalist Umaid Wasim for ‘spreading false information’ about them accepting money from Bin Hammam. Dawn had to formally apologise on the story regarding PFF getting any money transfers.


Manilal Fernando was a frequent visitor at PFF House

Similarly, a flood relief project given by AFC and the now disgraced South Korean football executive Dr Chung Mong-Joon in 2010 for Hayat’s native Jhang remains in limbo. The Jhang project is worth $650,000 ($400,000 donated by Dr Chung alone!) as confirmed by AFC. Nearly 6 years later, zero progress in Jhang attracted displeasure from AFC. PFF would claim the Punjab Government didn’t allocate land for the Jhang project but leaked emails revealed PFF notifying AFC that the land had been ‘acquired’ years ago which raises even more questions on PFF’s credibility.

In 13 years, PFF has yet to have its own dedicated playing and training facility. The Punjab Stadium, which is right next door to PFF House, is operated by Sports Board Punjab (SBP) and PFF has to always request its usage. All those development projects claimed as the numerous ‘feathers in the cap’ remain largely on paper with no accountability, transparency, or scrutiny.

Remember Vision 2020? It was re-branded as Vision 2022 by PFF and aiming for Pakistan to qualify for 2022 World Cup. Turns out it was all build around the now-defunct AFC’s AID-27 financial assistance program and FIFA grants to do everything from professionalising the PPFL, to grassroots development, coaching training, youth football and much more! By 2014, Vision 2022 became nothing more than a gimmick that was widely criticised in media and former PFF officials. Even favourable views towards PFF had a hard time justifying themselves.

The biggest indication that it was all a ruse by Faisal Saleh Hayat? PFF didn’t even give the 2018 World Cup qualifiers any due importance despite the fact the qualifiers would also decide finalists of the expanded 2019 AFC Asian Cup! Result was a grossly underprepared senior team led by an unimaginative Bahraini coach Mohammed al-Shamlan that lost to Yemen in 1st round 3–1 in first leg and drew 0–0 in second leg. All of this could have been avoided and guaranteed Pakistan a minimum of eight full international matches.


Mohammed al-Shamlan — Pakistan’s free coach from Bahrain (2013–15)

This humiliating early exit from the joint World Cup & Asian Cup qualifiers once again exposed the lack of vision and football knowhow that Faisal Saleh Hayat and his team had claimed it had to take Pakistan further. When AFC announced in April 2014 that these joint qualifiers would start with a qualifying round for the 12 lowest ranked teams in Asia, Pakistan then sat comfortably out of that danger zone and could avoid the first round. All Pakistan needed was to monitor the FIFA rankings, arrange couple of good friendly matches before the January 2015 break off point for ranking for draw, and nick a win to remain above the lowest 12 nations. Straightforward thing, right?

But the geniuses at PFF House didn’t know how these things worked so they focused on U23s throughout 2014 for the Asian Games, and the 2016 AFC U23 Championship qualifiers in 2015. This meant Pakistan did not play any senior friendlies resulting in falling rankings and becoming unseeded in the 1st round qualifiers draw by getting higher seeded Yemen. What’s more damning is that the joint World Cup & Asian Cup qualifiers weren’t even agenda points on PFF’s Congress in November 2014 and no preparation plan or budget was set aside for it in the 2015 PFF Activity calendar! They were so clueless that the activity calendar included a proposed camp and financial allocation for AFC Challenge Cup qualification, a tournament the AFC had already scrapped months earlier. On the other hand, Bangladesh managed to play friendlies with some SAFF members in 2014 and won some games to get a higher ranking to get a direct bye into the 2nd round group stage! After being unceremoniously dumped by Yemen, Pakistan U23s also got knocked out of their AFC U23 qualification group with just a measly win over lowly Kyrgystan a month or so later.

But how did Hayat’s PFF get ANOTHER free Bahraini coach in 2013? Back then, Pakistan was coached by a pragmatic Serb, Zaviša Milosavljević who was slowly building a team since taking over in late 2011. He always wanted Pakistan’s European contingent to be prioritised in the national team so that they can improve their results but PFF wanted locals and could only have matches on non-FIFA match dates that could not get release of European players. He was unceremoniously sacked by PFF in August 2013 just a few weeks before the SAFF Championship in favour of Shamlan. Milosavljević then joined Kyrgyzstan League champions Dordoi Bishkek and signed Kaleemullah, Muhammad Adil, and Saddam Hussain play in a better league by 2014. He became arguably the first coach to help local players move abroad and play for better clubs if they want to realise their dreams of becoming football stars.

The Serb blasted the PFF’s sheer incompetence and unprofessionalism in a Nov 2014 interview with The News’ Alam Zeb Safi. Milosavljević described Hayat as ‘extremely egotistical’ who would blame all of Pakistan football failures on coaches and players but never PFF. It turns out, the Serb’s sacking was inevitable. Leaked documents by Dawn’s Umaid Wasim and The Daily Mail’s Nick Harris showed Sheikh Salman’s Bahrain FA may have offered the services of Shamlan to PFF for free in order to secure votes for his 2013 AFC Presidency — a breach of FIFA’s own rules forbidding gifts leading to conflict of interest. Both sides, of course, deny wrong doing.

Coaches also share the miseries of Pak football governance issues. While the players have to cope with meagre department jobs to survive, coaches too struggle to make a name for themselves. Despite PFF’s many boasts of improving coach education and licensing courses for locals, Pakistan still has a very small number of qualified AFC License coaches with only one AFC Pro License candidate in Shahzad Anwar. Qualified coaches are essential for football development from grassroots all the way to the national senior team.

When the AFC AID-27 program was still running, PFF had nominated coaches to run AID-27 teams across Pakistan that would get wages and funding directly from AFC. Instead, PFF had taken away the wages from deserving coaches as revealed by Gohar Zaman (former Pakistan captain and coach) and NBP coach Nasir Ismail (also ex-Pakistan international) in December 2015. Both former national team coaches then revealed they had sent evidences of PFF corruption to the FIFA Ethics Committee to take action. FIFA is also said to be investigating the illegal World Cup ticket sales allegations involving PFF.

How NOT to handle a self-made Crisis

Pakistani football has faced numerous political crises over the past 3 decades alone — almost every time forcing a FIFA intervention. The Mian Azhar vs Hafiz Salman Butt feud was notorious but there was also a crisis in 1989 when PPP’s Ata Muhammad Pathan forced then PFF boss Aftab Sherpao (also PPP) to resign. FIFA ordered PFF to hold fresh elections that led to Mian Azhar’s win in 1990.

The 2015 crisis is much uglier and more prolonged. The ruling PMLN government has always wanted to control sports organisations in Pakistan, and PFF have been in their sights as soon as the 2015 election season came. They allied Hafiz Salman who was fed up by being kept sidelined with a PFF ban apparently not lifted. Not surprisingly, such a prospect horrified Faisal Saleh Hayat as he faced his strongest challenge since 2003 and tried to stop any government ingress. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa FA’s Syed Zahir Ali Shah and Sindh FA’s Khadim Ali Shah retained their respective presidencies unopposed, while Balochistan FA elections were oddly decided on a coin-toss that made Abdul Rauf Notezai win after tying votes with incumbent Khalil Ahmed.

Ali Haider Noor Niazi — a PML-N lawmaker eyeing Punjab FA presidency — had his nomination papers rejected by PFF’s Election Commission for being ‘unable to prove his football credentials’. This led to some ugly scenes at PFF House as Niazi’s and Hafiz Salman’s men occupied the premises for a few hours accusing PFF of pre-election rigging and corruption. PFF accused Niazi’s supporters of harassing officials and women footballers present, and lodged a police report. Not to be deterred, pro-government PFA members Rana Ashraf and Arshad Lodhi teamed up to challenge Sardar Naveed Haider Khan.

The PFA election remains shrouded in deep controversy as PFF declared Sardar Naveed the winner. Of the 35 PFA voting members, the Ashraf-Lodhi group were confident that at least 20 would side with them. But conveniently, 8 of those 20 were suspended from voting by the PFF for being part of Ali Niazi’s occupation of PFF House just before the polls causing the suspended voters to obtain a stay order from Lahore High Court (LHC). Conflicting reports suggested that facing anger from Ashraf-Lodhi group members present at PFF House, the PFF Election Commission decided to postpone the PFA elections until further notice. The voting members then left for home awaiting a fresh date. But merely an hour after the Ashraf-Lodhi group’s departure, PFA elections were suddenly with pro-Hayat voters electing Sardar Naveed.

This rival group was alerted by Col (r) Farasat Ali Shah — PFF Director Member Associations & Projects and PFF Election Commission secretary — expressing shock at what Hayat did and defected. The rival 20 members elected Rana Ashraf by themselves. Hayat’s PFF remained coyish and took their time before formally announcing their result a few days later. The other group immediately went to the LHC regarding the disputed PFA elections who in turn ordered the government-run Sports Board Punjab to submit a report over what happened. For his part, Col Farasat was suspended by PFF over ‘breach of discipline’ raising more controversy.

KPFA boss Zahir Ali Shah — a brother-in-law of Col Farasat — declared he would challenge Faisal Saleh Hayat in the June 2015 PFF Presidential Elections and accused his former ally for violating PFF rules for personal gain. Zahir also claimed BFA’s Abdul Rauf Notezai was being forced to allow the losing party’s three BFA members to retain their seats in the coming PFF Congress if Notezai wanted to remain BFA President after coin-toss win. Media also noted PFF election rules were simply chopped and changed at will by all sides.


Zahir Ali Shah and Col (r) Farasat Ali Shah

Hayat accused Zahir of ‘stabbing in the back’ and blamed KPFA for doing nothing for the Peshawar Goal Project. The PFF boss also took as many as eight ‘observers’ from allied provincial FAs to the AFC Congress in Bahrain to ensure their vote in the PFF elections. Then, SBP declared the PFA elections as illegal. Hayat scoffed saying SBP and LHC had no jurisdiction on PFF matters, and PFF’s own Disciplinary Committee handed life bans on the rebel PFA members for forming a parallel association.

PFF even took to social media, with its numerous officials arguing that ‘malafied interests’ were conspiring against Pak football. Not having a proper media manager since the untimely death of legendary football reporter Syed Akbar Ali Wahidi in 2011 showed PFF was struggled to defend itself. A twitter account under the PFF boss’ name had been often mentioned in past on media and actively tweeted on Pakistani politics and football for at least a year by then. But Hayat’s account likely gained unwanted attention when it tweeted seemingly in favour of FIFA reform. The PFF boss declared the account was fake and even shared on PFF’s Facebook page a copy of a signed PFF letter addressed to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) asking its IT wing to take action. Whether FIA got involved remains puzzling but the account disappeared a day or so later.

The pro-government faction held an Extraordinary Congress in Islamabad by claiming it had more than 1/3rd PFF Congress members needed as allowed by the PFF Constitution to suspend Faisal Saleh Hayat and PFF General Secretary Lt Col Lodhi over corruption and embezzlement. The faction appointed their own officials as interim heads, including former parliamentarian Kashmala Tariq for Women Committee, until the PFF Elections that were to be held merely two weeks later on 30 June 2015. Yet they could not confirm who was in attendance that voted for Hayat’s suspension. Hayat labelled this illegal and refused to budge. This faction forcibly took over PFF House on 20 June described as ‘act of terrorism’ by a furious Hayat as FIFA and AFC expressed alarm.

Arshad Lodhi group planned to hold their election at PFF House while Hayat group shifted their election venue to a Changla Gali hill resort. However, LHC intervened at the last minute and issued stay orders on PFF elections until hearing of petitions involving the warring factions could be resolved first. Arshad Lodhi group complied with the order but Hayat’s Changla Gali elections went ahead claiming he did not receive any LHC stay order and won a 4th consecutive term with a token AFC official sent as an observer. Hayat also made drastic changes in PFF Congress by not only reducing its members list, but also appointing non-football related people in place of those likely to challenge him. Hayat claimed AFC recognised his win but AFC seemingly was reluctant to take sides.

Hayat even tried to get the Lahore-based press on his side when the PFF organised an Iftar dinner party ‘commemorating’ World Sports Journalist Day a few days after Changla Gali. The irony of PFF celebrating sports journalists to win them over whilst threatening another with legal for doing his job is certainly not lost.

LHC declared the Changla Gali elections null and void, and issued contempt of court notices on Hayat. A retired judge, Justice Asad Munir, was appointed as PFF Administrator and was authorised to audit PFF and hold fresh elections under LHC. The court also ordered the FIA to freeze and investigate PFF accounts for embezzlement. Hayat challenged the court order through renowned lawyer and activist Asma Jehangir saying FIA had no authority to investigate a ‘private body’ like PFF. He also said the PFF Administrator appointment was blatant interference that can lead to a FIFA ban.

FIFA Finally Acts — Or Did it?

Eventually, FIFA decided to send a fact-finding delegation to Pakistan in August 2015 to meet the warring factions and report back about the situation. As the delegation concluded their meetings with both factions, Faisal Saleh Hayat tried to use his good ties with AFC boss Sheikh Salman to influence the outcome in his favour and confer his election win full legitimacy. Both sides claimed FIFA backed them, with Arshad Lodhi group stating FIFA was open to call fresh elections at both PFA and PFF.

FIFA decided in September 2015 that Hayat would be given a maximum of 2 years to reform PFF’s own constitution before holding fresh elections. It also deemed LHC-appointed administrator as interference but didn’t ban Pakistan, yet also did not explicitly approve the Changla Gali elections. But Hayat’s PFF was already declaring victory by saying FIFA had recognised its elections. When pressed for more info, FIFA sources revealed that the original 2011–15 PFF Congress term would continue. FIFA then effectively overturned bans on pro-government PFA members as illegal because PFF disciplinary committee wasn’t independent and had PFF officials as members violating FIFA rules.

By November 2015, FIFA suddenly recognised the Changla Gali elections by contradicting its own ExCo decision in September and added more confusion. But the courts were in no mood to back down from their rulings and went ahead with their proceedings involving PFF. FIFA’s reluctance to form a normalisation committee as it did for Maldives, Benin, and others having disputed elections at the same time raised suspicions. Rumours came that Sheikh Salman and the Kuwaiti FIFA ExCo member Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah may have influenced FIFA to protect Hayat because a normalisation committee would have meant fresh elections.

As the situation became dire, PFF withdrew Pakistan from taking part in the coming youth events like the SAFF U16 Championship. It also withdrew from the 2015 SAFF Suzuki Cup that angered a lot of players and coaches who felt cheated out by bickering politics. Eventually, Justice Munir organised the PFF Cup in early 2016 as an attempt to restore football. SFA’s Khadim Ali Shah tried to indirectly threaten any SFA affiliated teams and players with disciplinary action if they took part in any ‘unauthorised event’. But no Pakistan Premier Football League in 2015–16 meant that no Pakistani league champions would take part in the 2017 AFC Cup qualifiers.

At the same time, 2014–15 PPFL winners K-Electric FC got into trouble with AFC after an investigation on bungled transfers involving two England-based players Irfan Khan and Shani Abbasi who played for K-Electric in 2016 AFC Cup qualifiers in Bhutan were a breach of FIFA rules. Hayat’s PFF and K-Electric had failed to ensure that their international transfers happened with legitimate International Transfer Certificates (ITCs). AFC fined K-Electric $2000 for fielding the ineligible player Irfan Khan.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) stopped FIA from investigating PFF accounts in January 2016 — a baffling step nonetheless — but LHC started to assert itself in 2016. First, PSB claimed that LHC had dismissed PFF petitions that challenged PSB’s authority in implementing the National Sports Policy tenure restrictions on Faisal Saleh Hayat. It declared PFF elections of 2015 null and void in June 2016 and ordered fresh elections to be held. Hayat filed an intra-court appeal and secured another hearing for 19 October 2016.


This abject mediocrity and Machiavellian politics masks football’s mass popularity Pakistan. People already love their favourite European clubs and local tournaments often attract good crowds in places like Lyari (Karachi), Chaman, Chitral, Faisalabad and more. One often wonders when will such a simmering interest be transformed into a true professionalised system that can compete with rest of world football and make things even more interesting at regional, continental, and global levels. For that to ever happen, Pakistani football shall half to deal with the oversized elephant in the dressing room named politics first. The notoriously slow and laborious judicial system in Pakistan means the LHC cases involving PFF will take the remainder of 2016 and even beyond without reaching a final, firm judgement. The courts would expect FIFA to either cooperate or not come in their way per national laws.

One wonders if the events of past one year and more is the crisis to end all crises in Pak football. But for that to happen, FIFA has to get involved and sort PFF properly. With Gianni Infantino edging Sheikh Salman to become FIFA President in February 2016, there was hope that FIFA would take a firm stance on PFF crisis and resolve issues regarding disputed elections, corruption allegations on development projects, alleged illegal World Cup ticket sales, and taking away the deserving wages of coaches. As Infantino’s pledge to vastly increase financial assistance to all member associations was approved by FIFA, the PFF crisis resolution becomes an even further need to be solved as Faisal Saleh Hayat would desperately want FIFA to back him and only him given the extra monies his federation will get and do whatever they liked for another term.

Since the takeover of PFF House, Hayat has not ceased to moan about not being allowed to do his duties on FIFA directives. He is expected to meet the FIFA Members Association Committee in early September 2016 to discuss progress of PFF constitutional reforms the last year and would certainly want FIFA to give him two years AFTER he returns to PFF House. Also, news suggests that Hayat even wants to get himself elected into the FIFA Competitions Organisation Committee. Despite no competitions involving Pakistan since May 2015, Hayat has been a member of the organising committees for the 2015 and 2019 AFC Asian Cups! For that he will have to go through FIFA’s integrity checks to be cleared to take part. Question remains that after evading any FIFA censure towards allegations of corruption etc, will Faisal Saleh Hayat again be allowed to dupe the system and again become part of another standing committee in world football? More committee roles mean more luxury travels, more freebies, and per diems whilst no football at home.

Many players formed their own association to protest the crisis and work for protecting their rights. How successful such an exercise will be in ending the impasse is difficult. Some members of the Pakistani football fraternity express fears that if the Hayat group is bad, the rival faction including Hafiz Salman Butt will be even worse because of his antics of 1990s. They feel Pak football is now caught between the devil and the deep sea, while others say Hayat is the biggest stumbling block in Pak football’s progress because of his self-centred glorification for 13 years. Also, questions remains over what exactly the LHC-appointed Justice Munir has done in over last 1 year heading PFF to correct whatever faults, and taking a hefty salary similar to Hayat’s when he remained in office.

faisal saleh hayat crowned in multan

Faisal Saleh Hayat attending a youth football tournament in Multan and being ‘crowned’ in 2015

Since the FIFA crisis began, it has repeatedly said of its ‘respect for national laws’ of its member associations to avoid any further investigations into post-Blatter FIFA. However, Infantino’s FIFA has attracted strong criticism for doing a lot of publicity towards reform but showing nothing substantial at all. It has managed to purge some Blatter era people but that seems merely cosmetic. FIFA still wants to protect its own core interests and ensure that no outsider interferes in its matters, so its reluctance in endorsing any independent oversight is no surprise. FIFA likes to support the incumbents in power unless they are absolutely forced to remove a shielding arm.

Sport organisations are often a corrupt mafia that only answers to itself. The whole façade of ‘sports autonomy’ has allowed some very nefarious characters to make fortunes and attain power for decades even in the most obscure of countries like Pakistan. With so much money going into your coffers and nothing really needed to show your progress, is it a surprise that no one would ever want to quit a country’s FA? There is a consistent pressure for FIFA to yield and it may even happen sooner rather than later. Because what happens at FIFA will decide what happens in PFF.

If FIFA is honest about ensuring football does not come into disrepute again, then by all means they should intervene and resolve the PFF crisis already in its second year now. Maybe another May 2015 style FIFA crisis will ensure they do.

Ali Ahsan is a freelance writer on current affairs, politics, and football governance issues from Pakistan. All opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not represent the views of any organisation or entity.

Originally published in The Nation blogs in parts on 8th September 2016 and 9th September 2016