KARACHI: As many as eight observers from the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) will attend Thursday’s AFC Congress in the Bahrain capital of Manama where Asia’s football chief Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa is standing for re-election.

Those members swell the number of representatives from Pakistan to 12, which also includes a three-member official delegation accompanying PFF president Faisal Saleh Hayat, who is also running for the AFC vice-presidency in the polls.

This has obviously fuelled rumours that Hayat is using the AFC Congress as means to secure his votes in the upcoming PFF elections.

Hayat is facing a serious threat to his 12-year-reign as PFF chief in the June 30 polls with his former ally and now government-backed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Football (KPFA) chief Zahir Shah standing against him.

And while representatives from the other three provinces and Islamabad are being taken to Bahrain — allegedly on PFF expenses as accused by Zahir Shah’s camp — there is no observer from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

OBLIGING VOTERS

“With this step, Hayat is trying to swing the votes towards him,” suspended PFF Director Member Associations and Projects Col Farasat Ali Shah told Dawn on Tuesday.

Col Farasat has been suspended by the PFF and handed over a show-cause notice for what the country’s football governing body says were “violations” during the highly-contentious elections of the Punjab Football Association (PFA) on April 17.

He said that the elections, which were keenly-contested by government-backed Arshad Khan Lodhi and PFF-backed Sardar Naveed Haider Khan were postponed by Hayat. However, the PFF later declared Sardar Naveed as the winner when Arshad’s voters left the election venue.

“Even today I maintain that the elections were never held,” Col Farasat added on Monday. “Taking this large number of representatives is, however, a blatant violation of the AFC election codes.

“Only three people can accompany him [Hayat] while just two observers can go according to the rules. But Hayat is giving this joy trip to eight people [all members of the PFF Congress] so he can secure their votes for the PFF polls.”

Col Farasat, who is a brother-in-law of Hayat’s presidential rival Zahir, added that the costs of the ‘joy-trips’ were being met by the PFF accounts.

“It’s a fact that I’m Zahir’s brother-in-law and that can be changed but I’m standing against Hayat because of the wrongs he’s done.

“He’s taking these people not on his own money but instead through the PFF funds which are meant for development of football in Pakistan.”

MERE OBSERVERS

Sardar Naveed is part of the official PFF delegation alongside PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi and Islamabad Football Association (IFA) president Dr Fazal-ur-Rehman.

He rejected Col Farasat’s claims that PFA elections were not held and reiterated on Tuesday he was “the duly elected Punjab football chief”.

“I’m going to the AFC Congress in my position as the PFA chief and there I will speak to Sheikh Salman and [FIFA president] Sepp Blatter on projects for grassroots development in Punjab,” he told Dawn on Tuesday.

He added that the eight representatives — namely Balochistan Football Association (BFA) president Abdul Rauf Nautezai, the outgoing BFA chief Mohammad Jan Marri, Ayaz Zahoor, Mohammad Usman (both Balochistan), Sindh Football Association (SFA) chief Khadim Ali

Shah, Saleem Sheikh, Anwar-ul-Haq Qureshi (both Sindh) and Arif Rahim (Punjab) — were going as mere observers.

“It’s the AFC elections that are taking place and there is no such rules that we can’t take more members,” he said hours before his flight for Bahrain. “We’re taking them so they can observe how elections of Asia’s football governing body are conducted and how election rules are maintained.”

But Col Farasat argued that one member, Qazi Asif of KP, wasn’t taken along by the PFF because of his “geographical background”.

“Since Qazi Asif is from Peshawar, the PFF didn’t take him as an observer because they think they can’t buy his vote in the PFF elections,” he said. “The people they are taking are those who they hope vote for them.”

AFC VICE-PRESIDENCY

“The stakes can’t be higher for Hayat at the AFC Congress as he runs for the AFC vice-presidency with his PFF presidency under threat,” Col Farasat added. “He’s stooped so low that he’s using the AFC Congress for his personal gains.”

Hayat is up against All India Football Federation (AIFF) chief Praful Patel as he seeks election to one of five AFC vice-presidency seats.

Hayat was confident about his chances before he left for Bahrain. “Although the government’s actions [of backing Zahir Shah and making PFA elections controversial] hampered my AFC vice-presidency campaign, I’m confident of winning,” he told Dawn on Monday.

However, he will not lose his vice-presidency if he is toppled in June’s PFF elections.

“A candidate must have served football at club, regional or national level and be citizen of the country represented by the Member Association and Mr Faisal complies with those requirements,” an AFC spokesperson told Dawn on Monday.

“Furthermore, the PFF has nominated him for the AFC elections to represent the said Member Association. If he is elected to the AFC Executive Committee, he shall serve his term independently of the result of the PFF elections.”

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2015

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