KARACHI: Ashfaq Hussain Shah’s words were a refreshing change. For long the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) has spoken about financial restraints, its utter dependancy on funds from global football body FIFA or the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for football development in the country.
In his first news conference since taking over the PFF reins, the country’s newly-elected football chief vowed that it won’t be the case anymore. He needs to make the PFF financially secure anyway. His PFF isn’t going to get and FIFA or AFC funding for the time being.
Elected last month following polls ordered by the Supreme Court at the end of a long-running legal dispute that began in 2015, the Ashfaq-led body, for now, isn’t recognised by FIFA.
The world’s football governing body, ahead of the SC-ordered election, made it clear that the polls were a contravention of its statutes which prohibit “third-party interference” in the running of its member associations. FIFA still maintains Faisal Saleh Hayat is the PFF chief, having given him until March 2020 to hold fresh elections.
Ordered to hand over control of the PFF headquarters and its accounts to the newly-elected body by the SC, Hayat’s group did so but while the headquarters were in what Ashfaq termed as “dreadful conditions”, the accounts were empty.
Prior to the election, there had been rumours about Hayat — fearing he would lose the election — had told FIFA and AFC he would return the funding the PFF had received from them.
“We can confirm that we have been contacted by PFF concerning the balance of their Forward funds,” a FIFA spokesperson had told Dawn last month when asked about the issue. The spokesperson did not confirm whether the funding had been returned.
Ashfaq dubbed Hayat’s actions regarding the funds as “criminality” and “treason”.
“The PFF had been specifically told it had to give the Supreme Court an account of everything they do with the funds they have [when the elections were ordered in March last year],” Ashfaq told reporters on Saturday. “They needed to abide by the laws and whatever had been laid out. Before we were set to take over, the PFF had funds totalling around $530,000 and we don’t know whether they have been returned to FIFA or they are still with them. They’re not in the accounts, that’s for sure.”
The PFF president, however, said he wouldn’t let finances get in his way of developing football. “I don’t mind asking the government for funding,” he said, before adding that he was going to make sure that the PFF goes back into the ambit of Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) — Pakistan’s sports regulatory authority. During the final few years of his tenure, Hayat had refused to accept PSB funding, a move that saw PFF claim immunity from the local sports laws.
“At this stage we need funds to keep tournaments running, to keep domestic football going,” Ashfaq said. “We need to ensure that football doesn’t come to a standstill. Whether I’ve to beg, whether I’ve to borrow, I won’t let the game suffer. When hockey can get so much funding from the government, why can’t we? We have to make football viable. We need to rope in sponsors. FIFA funding can only do so much. We need more to develop the game.”
However, he said he would he would make his best efforts to contact FIFA and AFC and restore ties with them. After being elected as PFF chief, Ashfaq had written to the AFC only to be told that the Asian body doesn’t recognise the election and would decide “in consultation with FIFA the further course of action”. “We’re going to make further efforts,” he said. “We want them to send a delegation or a fact-finding committee to hear us out and decide how to take football forward.”
With Pakistan potentially facing FIFA suspension for the second time in two years after it was earlier banned from October 2017 to March 2018, Ashfaq said the key was ensuring football doesn’t stop. “I’ve been elected by the Supreme Court, the highest decision-making body in the country,” he said. “There has to be a solution to the ban and there will be. If we were based, we will ensure that football doesn’t stop, that the domestic events continue no matter what. We will ensure that we raise the standard of the game domestically.”
To ensure that, Ashfaq isn’t going to hold back.