SII Focus 11th October 2017

Pakistan’s suspension shows hypocrisy of FIFA political independence rules

FIFA has decided to suspend the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) for violating its rules on independence, as a court-appointed administrator retains control over the PFF offices and accounts due to bitter infighting over control of the body. At the same time, FIFA is preparing for the Russia 2018 FIFA, which is headed by a Deputy Prime Minister that is also President of the country’s football association.

Article 15 of the FIFA Statutes…

Pakistani football is being punished for appointing a third party to broker a solution between two warring factions, while FIFA ignores apparent third party political influence in Russian football. Article 15 of FIFA’s Statutes stipulates that member associations must ‘be neutral in terms of politics and religion’, and ‘independent and avoid any form of political interference’. If a member association is headed by a Deputy Prime Minister, it can be neither of these things.

Pakistan

A Pakistani football team has not appeared on the field of play, both domestically and internationally, since March 2015. The PFF announced that FIFA had recognised the fourth re-election of Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat as PFF President on 30 June 2015. However, former PFF Secretary Arshad Khan Lodhi raised objections to the election and seized control of the PFF offices.

Since then, a legal battle between the two groups has meant that neither has assumed control. Lodhi claims that the elections were rigged and alleged that Hayat had embezzled funds. Such claims led the PFF to impose a ten year ban on Lodhi.

Article 19 of the FIFA Statutes…

An administrator was appointed by the Lahore High Court to take control of the PFF offices. Article 14 and 19 of the FIFA Statutes states that member associations must ‘manage their affairs independently and ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties’.

It is understood that FIFA warned that if the PFF offices and access to the accounts were not returned to the control of the PFF by 31 July this year, then its Members’ Association Committee would recommend the suspension of the PFF. FIFA carried out its threat yesterday.

However, earlier allegations of malpractice at the PFF were uncovered by journalist Umaid Wasim, and detailed at the 2015 PlayTheGame conference. These included pictures (see PDF below) showing that just one of the eight FIFA Goal development projects which had been financed in Pakistan had actually been constructed. The awarding of these projects all pre-dates the 2015 PFF election, and it has been alleged that they could be connected to lobbying Asian Football Confederation (AFC) member assertions to vote for Mohammed bin Hammam in FIFA’s 2011 Presidential election.

Hayat was incumbent at the head of the PFF for 12 years. He is also a member of FIFA’s Strategic Committee and Chairs the AFC’s Legal Committee. The Pakistani Tribune reports that few of the 14 members (26 in total) who voted for Hayat in 2015 come from a footballing background, and some are connected to allegations of corruption.

Russia

The WADA IP Report found that Mutko ordered the covering up of a Russian footballer’s positive test…

Vitaly Mutko was Russia’s Minister of Sport during the period of systemic doping outlined by Richard McLaren in his Independent Person Reports for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). In October 2016, he was promoted to the position of Deputy Prime Minister, despite being directly implicated as covering up the positive test of a Russian footballer in Part 1 of the McLaren Report, published in July of that year.

Mutko is also President of the Football Union of Russia (FUR) and is Chairman of the Local Organising Committee for the FIFA 2018 World Cup Russia. FIFA has already refused to readmit Mutko to the FIFA Council due to his position as Deputy Prime Minister, as he was not considered ‘politically neutral’, as required by Article 14 of the FIFA Code of Ethics.

Article 14 of the FIFA Code of Ethics…

However, Mutko is still listed as Deputy Chairman of FIFA’s Security and Integrity Committee and as a member of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Bureau. He was Russia’s Minister of Sport from 2008 until 2016, and was appointed as a FIFA Council member in 2009.

FIFA’s rules on political neutrality were not included in previous versions of its Statutes, but were part of the 2012 version of its Code of Ethics. This raises questions as to why Mutko was re-elected to the Executive Committee (as the FIFA Council was then called) at the UEFA Congress in London on 24 May 2013, and why that re-election was accepted at the 2013 FIFA Congress, despite Mutko’s high-profile government post.

Inconsistency

Neither Pakistani nor Russian football appears to be free from political influence. The Pakistani situation is a complicated one. Allegations of corruption and embezzlement date back years, and it is difficult to know who is corrupt and who isn’t. However it is telling that both potential heirs to the PFF throne appear prepared to abandon football entirely for two years in favour of a courtroom battle.

FIFA gave the PFF warning to get its house in order, and when that didn’t happen, it suspended the PFF. Questions need to be asked about whether such a decision is in the best interests of Pakistani football. A match has not been played since March 2015 due to the ongoing infighting. In such a situation, third party interference might not be such a bad thing.

The fact that Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister is President of the Football Union of Russia appears to be a clear breach of Article 15 of the FIFA Statutes, which require member associations to ‘avoid any form of political influence’. Mutko’s involvement also appears to be a clear breach of Article 14 and 19, which requires each member association to ‘manage its affairs independently and without undue influence from third parties’.

FIFA has already confirmed that Mutko’s political position is a problem as regards his place on the FIFA Council, yet he is allowed to retain other FIFA roles as a member of the 2018 World Cup Bureau and Deputy Chairman of the Security and Integrity Committee. He is also far from being ‘politically neutral’, as required by Article 14 of the FIFA Code of Ethics. And this is before his implication in the systemic Russian doping identified by Richard McLaren has even been discussed.

Pakistani football fans could be forgiven for asking FIFA why its rules on third party influence and political independence appear to apply to Pakistan, but not to Russia. Both Hayat and his opponent, Lodhi, are politicians. Hayat was elected as Member of National Assembly of Pakistan for  2002–2007 and 2008–2012, during his tenure as PFF President. Lodhi was also a member of the National Assembly from 2013.

FIFA has taken a consistent position that it will ban Pakistan unless it removes such third party political influence from the PFF. The PFF has argued that FIFA supports the election of Hayat, something that FIFA has not confirmed, but not disputed. Yet it has failed to punish Russia for an even greater third party political influence, Mutko, who has also been implicated in corruption allegations.

To anyone examining the situation, is appears that FIFA is applying double standards. FIFA is prepared to warn and punish Pakistan for third party political influence, as it is not a major commercial power in football. However, it appears to shy away from applying the same rules to Russia, which is a major commercial power due to its hosting of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Such double standards would suggest that FIFA’s rules on third party influence and political neutrality are little more than window dressing, and are only applied when it suits FIFA.

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