It was a blustery November evening in Islamabad when at a plush hotel in the capital, Faisal Saleh Hayat addressed a select group of journalists.
The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) president had just arrived in his convoy of luxury cars carrying some distinguished guests after a day excursion in Bhurban.
Hayat is a stylish man. He follows Louis Vuitton on Twitter, usually sports a blazer, knows how to communicate and looked comfortable in his designer jacket and jeans.
The meeting in Bhurban — a resort few hours away from Islamabad — was to unwind with the distinguished guests he’d invited for the SAFF Women’s Championship final a day later on Nov 21.
Among those guests was AFC president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa who had a day before addressed the PFF Congress in Lahore.
Along with Sheikh Salman was AFC secretary Alex Soosay, SAFF and Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) president Kazi Salahuddin, Football Association of Thailand (FAT) president and FIFA executive committee member Worawi Makudi and Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president Prince Tengku Abdullah.
“See, this is a galaxy of footballing luminaries in Pakistan and I’ve managed to call each of these dignitaries, including the AFC chief, through my personal connections,” Hayat said.
PFF secretary Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi, sitting next to Hayat, nodded.
Hayat no doubt has his connections in both AFC and world’s football governing body FIFA.
In his room at the PFF House in Lahore, there are pictures of him with FIFA president Sepp Blatter, Sheikh Salman and the other leaders of the world game.
Lodhi’s room has a picture of him escorting Blatter during an AFC Congress. Wherever they go for an AFC or FIFA Congress, Hayat and Lodhi are usually very well received. They’re amongst the men who convince, moderate and instruct fellow members what the agenda is.
But Hayat getting the AFC chief to address the PFF Congress — something Sheikh Salman had never done at any member association during his tenure — was an achievement.
However, there was more to the invitation. Hayat was going to run as one of five AFC vice-presidents from the newly-formed South Asia Zone after the AFC Extraordinary Congress in Sao Paulo last year proposed five zones from four previously — splitting the Central-South Asia Zone.
Those proposals were approved at January’s AFC Extraordinary Congress in Australia ahead of Thursday’s AFC Congress where the elections will take place.
“The meeting is to build confidence for the AFC elections,” a PFF insider had told Dawn then. “This Salahuddin-Hayat-Makudi-Tengku Abdullah is a bloc. Everyone has met here to discuss about the upcoming AFC elections.”
Sheikh Salman will be elected Asia’s football leader for the next four years on Thursday but Makudi and Tengku Abdullah will be up against five others for three FIFA ExCo seats and Hayat will be against his Indian counterpart Praful Patel for AFC vice-presidency from the South zone.
“Naturally Salahuddin, being SAFF chief, should’ve run for the post from South Zone but he backed Hayat to go for the post against Patel,” the PFF insider added.
“They agreed on the fact the women’s member from the zone will be Bangladesh’s Mahfuza Akhter. Salahuddin agreed to back Hayat and said he’ll campaign for him for the votes.”
Hayat is set to receive votes from Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. He may also get the vote from Nepal but Patel seems to have swung that vote his way by announcing a relief package of Indian Rs1,100,000 to All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) for the affectees of Saturday’s earthquake.
PFF, meanwhile, will side with Makudi and Tengku Abdullah for the ExCo posts. The other is likely to by Japan’s Kohzo Tashima.
Soon after the AFC Extraordinary Congress in Australia, Lodhi told Dawn that there was intense lobbying with PFF getting several offers from Japan and Malaysia for cooperation ahead of the elections.
“A week after that story was published, the AFC asked Lodhi for an explanation on what he said which is why he started denying he’d said anything,” said the PFF insider. “Before the AFC came down hard at the PFF, no one cared a dime about what had been published.”
The PFF pressed Dawn hard to publish a rebuttal in which it said “Lodhi unequivocally and categorically denies quotes attributed to him”.
But then, in a news release on March 7, the PFF said that a two-member delegation of Hayat and Lodhi went to Japan to meet with Japan Football Association (JFA) president Kuniya Daini and vice-president Tashima.
“The PFF president said that JFA is considering providing assistance to PFF as following: provision of coach for the Pakistan’s national women’s team, improvement of infrastructure, exchange of national teams and coaches education programme,” it said.
It matched exactly what Lodhi had told Dawn earlier and later denied. The rest is self-explanatory.
By that time, Makudi and Tengku Abdullah had already fulfilled the promises they had made to the PFF during those two days in Islamabad.
Pakistan’s football team went for a tour of Thailand and Malaysia, all expense-paid by FAT and FAM, in the last week of February where they played two games each as warm-ups to their first-round 2018 World Cup qualifier against Yemen.
It is largely believed it was in return for votes. “The PFF does these things expertly,” said the PFF insider.
Hayat is facing a massive threat to his 12-year reign as PFF president with former ally Zahir Shah challenging him in the upcoming elections in June.
But he’s confident that he will win the AFC seat. “I’m confident about my chances since I know that I have sufficient backing,” he told Dawn on Monday, a day before he left for Bahrain for the AFC Congress.
If all goes to plan, as it was decided back in Islamabad during those two days of November, Hayat would become AFC’s South Zone vice-president in Thursday’s polls in Manama along with retaining his seat in the Executive Committee.
Anything other than that would be a surprise.
Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2015