by Umaid Wasim
KARACHI: Faisal Saleh Hayat has seemingly staved off the biggest threat to his reign as the country’s football chief. And now, with a verdict from the Lahore High Court (LHC) in his favour, he is set to be reinstated on Wednesday as the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) president — a position he’s held on to since 2003.
After a legal case spanning almost three years, Hayat has been restored to his position after the PFF elections held on 30 June 2015 were upheld according to an uncertified copy of the judgment seen by Dawn.
However, confusion persists with the court having also upheld an election of the Punjab Football Association (PFA) which was won by members of Hayat’s rival faction.
For now the developments could lead to the FIFA ban on Pakistan lifted with the football’s world governing body having put the condition, when announcing the ban in October last year, that the suspension would be lifted if the PFF headquarters and its accounts were handed over to the Hayat-led federation.
Hayat was due to take over the PFF headquarters on Tuesday but was waiting for a certified copy of the order. FIFA did not immediately respond to query when the ban will be lifted but well-placed sources have told Dawn that it has been notified of the court’s decision.
But with Hayat’s two-year mandate given to him by FIFA in September 2015 to ratify the PFF statutes and hold fresh elections having already expired, it will be interesting to see what the global body does next.
That September 2015 decision by FIFA’s now-disbanded executive committee came following a visit by a FIFA mission to the country to talk to the two warring factions of the PFF that were formed after a dispute in the run-up to its presidential election in June 2015.
With Hayat’s term having expired, FIFA may decide to install a normalisation committee after it lifts the ban to hold fresh elections and resolve the crisis once and for all.
In the interim, though, Hayat is set to get back his post, now officially recognised by the LHC.
PFA ELECTIONS CONTROVERSY
The LHC directed the administrator, appointed by it back in August 2015 to oversee day-to-day affairs till the issue was resolved, to “immediately hand over the control of PFF in terms of election result dated 30.6.2015”.
Hayat’s counsel had told the court that its election process was supervised by a joint-election committee which included members from FIFA, Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
Yet, the secretary of the PFF election committee Col Farasat Ali Shah wasn’t at the presidential poll in Changla Gali, having earlier been sidelined by the PFF following a dispute in the contentious election of the Punjab Football Association (PFA) which led to the PFF breaking into two factions.
It also saw Hayat’s long-time ally Syed Zahir Shah announce his candidacy for the president. Then, the LHC ordered a stay on the election — which the Hayat faction conducted nevertheless — before appointing an administrator.
And in the latest judgment, Justice Ayesha A. Malik also said that the single judge had “erred by interfering in the election process and could not have annulled the elections held on 30.6.2015 or appointed an Administrator”.
However, there remains uncertainty how the PFF Congress will shape up since the three members of the PFA will be from the rival faction as the court endorsed the election conducted by Sports Board Punjab (SBP) following the fallout in its scheduled election on 17 April 2015.
Then, the Hayat-supported Sardar Naveed Haider Khan had been announced the PFF as the winner only after the other candidate Arshad Khan Lodhi and his supporters had left the election venue.
After a dispute arose with the result, SBP intervened and after discussing the matters with both parties held another election that was won by Lodhi-backed Rana Ashraf.
Surprisingly, though, Rana wasn’t in the PFF election in Changla Gali where Sardar Naveed was present as the PFA chief. Yet the PFF election has been upheld.
NO DOMESTIC ACCOUNTABILITY?
The most striking aspect of the judgment, meanwhile, is one that could have a lasting impact on sports in Pakistan.
It absolves the PFF of any domestic accountability, deeming that there wasn’t a binding on it to be affiliated with the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) — the country’s sports regulatory authority.
“Admittedly the PFF is a private association of persons which was affiliated with the PSB for some time however subsequent to the year 2012, PSB stopped funding PFF and PFF being member of FIFA was compliant with the FIFA Statutes,” says the judgment.
It potentially means that any federation, in its ambit, can disaffiliate itself from the PSB by citing it doesn’t required funds from the government.
Crucially, though, it also means that the federation can function as a private organisation solely on its affiliation with a global body without being registered in Pakistan and with no domestic accountability.
The dispute arose in the PFF election since Hayat was running for a fourth term as president while PSB’s National Sports Policy has a two-term restriction for its affiliated bodies.
“PSB cannot regulate PFF who has expressed categorically that it has opted to be regulated by FIFA statutes and not PSB,” the judgment adds.
“PFF being a private association of persons is free to choose the terms and conditions of its office-bearers.”
With Hayat’s rival faction planning to appeal to the Supreme Court, and more clarity needed on how this will all work, Pakistan football is set to be played out in the courtroom rather than on the fields.