by Umaid Wasim
JHANG: In the ancestral home of Pakistan football’s czar, the game is virtually non-existent.
But since charity begins from home maybe that is why Faisal Saleh Hayat, the legally-challenged Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) president, wanted to build a football training centre in Jhang.
Only that, the project never began despite former FIFA vice-president Dr Chung Mong-Joon and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) giving funds totalling $650,000 in 2011 for the flood relief project.
In a special report in June 2015, Dawn exposed that the timing of the project was dubious along with the PFF’s plan to construct it.
Following the expose by Dawn, the AFC referred the case to the investigatory chamber of FIFA’s ethics committee. Asia’s football governing body hadn’t checked up on the project since it transferred the funds.
Although the ethics committee only comments on ongoing formal proceedings, well-placed sources have told Dawn that it is aware of the case.
But the question remains: Why was Jhang, a city that has a long history of sectarian violence and isn’t particularly known for its football chosen for the flood relief project?
“The PFF has acquired a suitable land in District Jhang, the worst flood affected area of Punjab for the project,” the PFF had written to the AFC in November 2011, a year after the project was announced.
According to several residents of Jhang, interviewed by Dawn, the floods in 2010 didn’t affect Jhang as painted in the letter.
“It was the floods of 2014 that caused serious damage,” a political party worker, who wished to remain anonymous, told Dawn on Sunday. “The worst damage in 2010 was in Muzaffargarh rather than Jhang.”
The AFC never sent an official to Jhang for a site inspection and handed over the funds to the PFF.
Despite having the land, no work began and with the district being plagued by sectarian violence, the headlines were never about the delays in the construction of the training centre — a perfect opportunity for the PFF to put the money in the bank and claim interest off it.
Apart from being violence-hit, Jhang has other problems too. It’s one of the most backward areas of the country.
“I will work on development, education — especially towards building a university, hospitals, sanitation and sewerage,” Masroor Nawaz Jhangvi, who last month became the MPA from the district following a by-election, told Dawn and two other reporters during a lunch at his friends’ residence on Sunday.
Sport doesn’t even cross his mind.
There is a serious lack of sporting culture in Jhang. There is a bigger crowd at a foosball table on the corner of a street than at the few grounds in the district.
“People in Jhang usually don’t indulge in sport,” Police constable Zahid Iqbal, who hails from a village near Shah Jewana — the town where Hayat is the current spiritual leader, told Dawn on Sunday.
“Cricket is played mot commonly and there is little interest in football,” adds Zahid.
As far as football is concerned, there are just six registered football clubs with voting rights in the district.
Elections for the district football associations are held every four years along with the rest of Punjab in Pakistan.
It was the elections in 2015 that put Pakistan football in the doldrums as the PFF having split into two factions following a bitter dispute ahead of the presidential election.
The Lahore High Court (LHC) has since ruled that Hayat, the man recognised as PFF president by world’s football governing body FIFA, is no longer the country’s football chief and ordered fresh elections.
In his native Jhang, at the only recognised football ground — the Church Ground, is full of people playing cricket at two very narrow pitches side by side.
It’s only on the far end of a lush green ground that there are a few youngsters indulging in football.
“We play football sometimes,” they told Dawn on a blustery Sunday afternoon. “Sometimes we come to watch football here when the teams play but that is rare.”
A few kilometres away is the Mai Heer Stadium, Jhang’s biggest sports venue named after Heer, the female protagonist of ‘Heer Ranjha’ which is a tale of tragic romance in Punjabi folklore.
But it’s in dilapidated condition. Broken down walls and litter on its lush green pitch destroy what should be a compelling sight from the shrine of Heer Ranjha.
A cricket match is being played — one with an umpire and both teams in proper kits.
But there is no one playing football.
“It’s a shame that despite being the president of the national football association since 2003, Hayat did nothing for the game in his own hometown,” says Zahid.
The state-of-the-art Dr Chung-AFC training centre could’ve been a start. Unfortunately, on the evidence collected by Dawn it seemed to be a non-starter from the beginning.
“The future of football in Pakistan is extremely bright,” Hayat said on a private channel on New Year’s Eve in a rare television interview since the PFF crisis broke out 18 months ago.
The future of football in his ancestral land, however, looks completely the opposite — thanks to a project that his PFF never began.