Own Goal [Dawn]

Own Goal [Dawn]

by Irfan Husain

QUICK question for football fans: who’s the captain of Pakistan’s football team? Give up?

Don’t worry, because there is no national team currently, after the legal disputes that have paralysed the Pakistan Football Federation since 2015.

But if there is one constant in Pakistani football, it is that the head honcho hasn’t changed since his army-assisted election in 2003. In this, Faisal Saleh Hayat is hardly alone: many jumped ship to join Musharraf’s cabinet and were accorded favours by the dictator.

Fifa, the world body, has been a goose that has kept laying golden eggs in the form of ‘development funds’ that have flowed to Pakistan — as well as other member countries.

But many millions of dollars later, Pakistan languishes at 194th place (out of 209 member countries) in Fifa rankings. In most business organisations, the CEO would be fired for such a pathetic performance, but Faisal Saleh Hayat has gone from strength to strength. Using the skills honed in decades in Pakistani politics, he has managed to get on several Fifa and AFC committees.

While I’m not a keen follower of international football, I do place a few small bets during the World Cup to keep my interest alive.

But, thus far, not a single South Asian team has qualified to play in the most keenly followed sporting tournament in the world. You’d think that with a combined population of around 1.5 billion, the subcontinent would be occasionally represented in the World Cup.

I had a theory that the reason for our dismal performance lies in our skinny desi legs. Also, you have to be super-fit to play in the top leagues and, given our climate, we tend to conserve our energy. So cricket is more our thing: a fielder stands around and, occasionally, the ball comes his way. Then there is a lunch break, a tea break, and drinks breaks. In football, an attacking player can sweat off six kilos in one 90-minute game.

But my argument is weakened by the success that African and Arab players have achieved in world football. If they can do it, why can’t we?

One reason, of course, is the lack of playing fields and coaches at schools and colleges in Pakistan. Even clubs have to make do on grounds that are a far cry from the smooth artificial surfaces being used across the world.

Step forward Faisal Saleh Hayat, and tell us what has been achieved by the development grants and infrastructure funds. True, a PFF House has been built in Lahore. But hasn’t a lot also been paid for Hayat’s trips to attend Fifa and AFC meetings across the world?

The Sepp Blatter scandal was all over the media last year. Blatter was accused of handing out large sums to football associations in developing countries for their votes. Many others were accused of riding this gravy train. Bin Hammam of Qatar orchestrated a vast campaign to win the 2022 World Cup for his country. In a lengthy exposé, the UK’s Sunday Times alleged in 2014 that millions were handed out as ‘development funds’ — reportedly for their votes. The thought of the World Cup being played in the searing heat of a dry (in both senses of the word) Qatar continues to infuriate many football fans. Guess which way Pakistan voted?

Then there are allegations of the illegal sale of tickets allocated to the PFF for the recent Brazil World Cup. More serious, perhaps, is the squabbling that has split the PFF and virtually frozen all football activities at the national level. Charges and counter-charges wit­hin the or­g­an­isation were investigated by a Fifa fact-finding delegation in August 2015.

Tellingly, a professional coach, Zavisa Milosavljevic, was sacked because his recommendations went against the prevailing wisdom that has seen Pakistan languishing at the bottom. In an interview in November 2014 with the The News, he described Hayat as egotistical in the extreme.

The reason there’s a power struggle tearing the PFF apart is that others have their eyes on the virtually unaccountable funds and other perks at the president’s disposal. There is a tendency for heads of sports organisations to cling on, but Hayat has been around for 14 years, and should surely call it a day. After all, his performance as president has not exactly been stellar.

The Lahore High Court has appointed a retired judge as administrator of the PFF until the legal wrangling is resolved, and Fifa has suspended funding. Could the adult in the room please knock heads and let the players get on with game?

[Thanks to blogger Ali Ahsan for some of this information.]


Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2017