ISLAMABAD: The expression on retired Lt Col Ahmed Yar Khan Lodhi’s face was of utter resignation. An era had just ended moments earlier, 15 years of Faisal Saleh Hayat’s uninterrupted reign as the chief of Pakistan football, when Ashfaq Hussain Shah was elected Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) chief in an election at the Supreme Court here on Wednesday.
“FIFA will take action,” Lodhi, Hayat’s long-time aide and PFF’s secretary general, said as he walked out of the premises. Stopped by Dawn for his reaction, he said he was “a neutral person” and had nothing to add. FIFA had earlier indicated that the Supreme Court-ordered election was “third-party interference” and that it would take action if it went ahead.
It went ahead as planned, despite Hayat’s vociferous appeals that the PFF risked a ban from FIFA to which the Supreme Court said the credibility of its election was beyond doubt and should be accepted by all parties. It ended with Ashfaq being elected with a 17-3 majority in the 26-member congress.
Hayat had earlier announced he wouldn’t contest the polls. Instead he fielded Anwar-ul-Haq Qureshi. Fearing defeat, with signs evident before the election that Hayat’s group had lost majority of their support, their confirmed voters — three members each from the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan — didn’t turn up. Lodhi, however, did and his appearance in a way is a validation of the election process.
“A new era has begun,” Ashfaq said after being announced the winner by returning officer Amir Saleem Rana, flanked by his three vice-presidents, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Football Association (KPFA) chief Zahir Ali Shah, Punjab Football Association (PFA) chief Sardar Naveed Haider Khan and Malik Aamir Dogar. “It’s now time to take football forward following the years of crisis.”
The Supreme Court ordered the elections in March, after a long-running legal battle that followed disputed PFF polls in 2015. In its first part, it ordered the PFA elections from 2015 to be reheld, which saw Sardar Naveed elected president in April. At that point in time, the PFA election has only seemed to further strengthen Hayat.
But then in a surprising twist of events, Sardar Naveed broke up with Hayat over differences in how the PFF was being run. With elections approaching, he started a campaign for Dogar to run as president. But when he and Dogar were declared ineligible to contest after an appeal from Lodhi, they were left with little option than to back Ashfaq in the election.
Ashfaq wasn’t originally going to contest the election too. He was the back-up candidate for Zahir, who like Sardar Naveed was a former Hayat ally who rebelled in lead-up to the 2015 elections. He stepped into the fray once Zahir was also declared ineligible to contest on an appeal by Lodhi.
The election began with three women voters being elected to raise the Congress to 20 members. Farzana Rauf, Javaria Zafar and Tassawar Aziz were among those members before the vote for the president, vice-president and executive committee were held.
The only vice-president nominee from the Hayat faction, Mir Mohammad Jan Marri got just two votes and was well beaten. The executive committee, meanwhile, saw Mohammad Ashraf Khan and Mian Rizwan Ali being elected from the PFA and Said Rasool and Zulfiqar Ahmed being elected from KPFA. Azizullah and Dost Mohammad Khan were elected from the Balochistan Football Associatio (BFA) while Abdul Nasir Baloch Karim and Jamil Ahmed were elected from the Sindh Football Association (SFA).
They all will now be led by Ashfaq, the president of District Football Association Peshawar who is a mechanical engineer by profession. He has a big task on his hands ahead. “It’s a huge challenge ahead because football has been suffering for several years,” Ashfaq told Dawn. “We need to bring the PFF back and track and raise the standard of the game since we have both capacity and the talent to go further. We need to focus on the grassroots and have multi-faceted policies.”
The next challenge for him would be to take FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on board. “At the moment, our main concentration is to put the game here in order before going to FIFA and AFC,” Ashfaq added. “Luckily our teams had informed them about the election and we will wait for their response. I hope they will have no issues since they were held by the country’s apex court.”
The Hayat group is expected to continue to argument with FIFA having set a roadmap for the PFF to hold elections by 2020. The Supreme Court, however, by holding the landmark election has begun a new era for Pakistan football.
Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2018