‘AFC involvement in PFF’s legal case damaged football’

Updated May 11, 2019

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Faisal Saleh Hayat is recognised by global football body FIFA and the AFC as the Pakistan's football chief but Ashfaq Hussain Shah has the Pakistani courts' blessing to hold the position. — Dawn/File
Faisal Saleh Hayat is recognised by global football body FIFA and the AFC as the Pakistan's football chief but Ashfaq Hussain Shah has the Pakistani courts' blessing to hold the position. — Dawn/File

KARACHI/LAHORE: Accusa­tions flew against the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) at an explosive news conference in Lahore on Friday. Those making them had documentary evidence to back their claims.

A number of congress members from the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) led by Ashfaq Hussain Shah lambasted the AFC for its role in damaging football in Pakistan, saying it had “unconstitutionally” supported Faisal Saleh Hayat, the man recognised by global football body FIFA and the AFC as the country’s football chief.

“The AFC is responsible for the footballing debacle of the last four years in Pakistan,” PFF vice-president Sardar Naveed Haider Khan said regarding the legal tussle over the control of the country’s football governing body.

“Why is it [AFC] violating its own regulations?” he continued before informing that the legal fees for the lawyers of the PFF headed by Hayat came from the lawyers.

FIFA and AFC both have strict rules against “third-party interference” from governments and courts. It requires its member associations to follow the Statutes laid by them and don’t accept decisions by local courts.

“We have prepared a case against the AFC and sent it to FIFA’s Ethics Committee because when there are rules against third-party interference, why have they paid lawyers representing Hayat in the local courts.”

Documents given to Dawn show that the AFC paid a total of US$46,7021 to different lawyers representing the PFF from August 2015 to October 2016, at a time when there was no football activity in the country since the Hayat faction claimed they had no access to funding. Another US$8,500 was handed to the lawyers by AFC from April to June 2017. In all, the PFF incurred legal expenses of around US$140,000 in four years from 2015 to 2018.

The AFC’s payments to lawyers were made in personal accounts and during that time FIFA had suspended funding to the PFF since it was under a court-appointed administrator following the fallout over the controversial elections of the body in June 2015 that took the matter to the court.

“We fully appreciate the need you expressed to support football development in Pakistan and are committed to provide all the assistance necessary,” FIFA’s then acting secretary general Markus Kattner said in a letter to the PFF in October 2015, replying to a request to release a grant of US$396,000 from FIFA’s Financial Assistance Programme (FAP) through the AFC.

“In order to be eligible for FIFA’s development programmes, including the FAP you alluded to your letter, we must ensure that effective structures are in place. You highlighted the issue of control over PFF’s accounts, which is central to any financial assistance. In addition, the financial policy of FIFA does also not allow to execute indirect payments [payments via third parties] without contractual agreements. We thus much regret not to be able to honour your request.”

Before the PFF had written to FIFA, the AFC had already set a precedent. Documents seen by Dawn show the first private funding by the AFC into personal accounts of lawyers representing the PFF on September 15, 2015. Payments into the lawyers’ personal accounts were made by the AFC after a letter the PFF in which it detailed was “facing liquidity problems” and “therefore you [AFC] are requested to pay legal fees directly into [the lawyers’] account out of the third instalment of the AFAP”.

Adding weight to the claims made by the Ashfaq-led PFF is that the AFC was rerouting funds meant for football development — from the Asian Financial Assistance Programme (AFAP) — into paying for the PFF’s legal expenses.

“It is clarified that the AFAP 2016 budget has been revised to pay legal fees, travelling bills and other functional needs,” said a PFF letter to the AFC in May 2016. “Those funds were rerouted from football development as you know due to prevailing situation we can’t perform any football activities,” he says in that letter.”

Article 9.4 of the AFAP regulations states that, “Save as in exceptional circumstances [as determined by the AFC General Secretariat and approved by the AFC Executive Committee], the receipt and disbursement of the AFAP Grant must only be done via the Member Association’s AFAP Account(s)”.

“We can confirm that all payments were according to regulations and/or committee decisions,” an AFC spokesperson told Dawn when asked about the payments. There was no response when asked when the executive committee approved those payments. The AFC ExCo met in the Bahraini capital of Manama on July 11 2015, only 11 days after the controversial PFF election. The next time the ExCo met was in New Delhi in November that year. The PFF issue, or its liquidity problems, was not on the AFC ExCo agenda in the July 2015 meeting, after which the payments to the lawyers were made. The AFAP regulations article 10.1 states: “The AFAP Grant shall only be utilised for development or management activities.”

FIFA was in the dark regarding those payments. “We have not been informed by PFF or AFC about the specific matter and are not in a position to comment,” a FIFA spokesperson told Dawn when asked whether the funding was against FIFA Statutes.

Ashfaq came into power in December last year in an election ordered by the Supreme Court, elections which came at the culmination of the four-year long legal battle during which the game came to a halt in Pakistan.

In a bid to resolve the PFF crisis, the a joint FIFA/AFC delegation is to arrive later this month where it will meet both parties.

“The FIFA delegation is coming to Pakistan on May 28 and 29 we will fight our case,” Sardar added at the news conference. “We are going to defend our rights and not to surrender our rights.”

Ashfaq, sitting next to Sardar, said he “definitely” endorsed the views of his vice-president.

Sardar was previously a close ally of Hayat and only broke ranks ahead of the Supreme Court-ordered elections. He was part of the 2015 polls in Changla Gali which sparked the PFF crisis. “I felt I was guilty,” he said when asked about his change of heart.

Pakistan are due to play Cambodia in the first-round of the joint qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup in June but the uncertainty means it is highly unlikely that the national team will take to the pitch for the two-legged tie.

The Ashfaq-led group has set up a camp in Islamabad but the AFC will only accept a team sent by Hayat. “The Hayat group has set up a camp in Doha,” claimed Ashfaq. “… and that is tantamount to treason.”

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2019