A crisis is enveloping Thai football that could well see the country thrown out of FIFA.
And it's not an idle threat.
What is especially dispiriting and infuriating to any sober observer of events in the kingdom is that the entire situation could have been avoided altogether.
The situation has come to a head because of Pattaya FC's court injunction against a plan that would have reduced the number of voting members for the upcoming but as-yet-unscheduled Thailand Football Association (FAT) presidential election from 184 to 72.
FIFA, being a citadel of arrogant nabobs in Zurich, doesn't like being answerable to anyone, let alone a provincial court judge in steamy Siam. They have demanded Pattaya withdraw its action or risk Thailand's expulsion from world football.
Wrote FIFA in a letter to Ong-Arj Kosinkar, secretary-general of FAT: "By pursuing their action before an ordinary court of law, the club's behaviour prevents FAT from managing its affairs independently and undermines the competent decision-making bodies of FAT...
"In accordance with the decision of FIFA Associations Committee on February 14, 2013, FAT must adopt revised FAT statutes and only then can the election take place, and by no later than 30 September 2013. Failure to respect this decision would again mean the matter would be referred to the competent FIFA body to take appropriate measures."
Yet, as I see it, the action by Pattaya is a rightful one. Admirably, club president Natthaphol Panyakhananukul is holding his ground. And why shouldn't he?
There has been no rational explanation given for why the reduction in numbers is necessary. Pattaya, however, is willing to back off from its injunction so long as there is some simple communication from FAT and FIFA.
Says the club's lawyer Peemdech Amonsukhona: "We are willing to withdraw the lawsuit on condition that the FAT agree to discuss the number of voting members, which they had intended to reduce from 184 to 72. FIFA states clearly that it is the right of each member country to set its number of voting members, because each one has different numbers. FIFA does not fix a specific number."
It would seem to be a basic courtesy to any stakeholder but it's not forthcoming. Why?
Opponents of the incumbent president not unreasonably would be entitled to draw the conclusion that the reduction is giving him an advantage. You're entitled to draw your own.
So why is FIFA enabling this bewildering situation to pass? It would seem the reason lies in the fact that no one wants to take responsibility for it. FAT and its president have had plenty of time to modify its statutes, going back years. They only met with FIFA's Associations Committee, as mentioned by FIFA in its letter to FAT, on 14 February, when the number of 72 was agreed upon.
A number virtually plucked out of mid air. No concrete explanation for the figure but rumoured to be made up of 18 clubs from the Thai Premier League, 18 from Division One, 30 from Division Two and a handful of amateur teams. At a press conference in Bangkok, FIFA member associations and development director Thierry Regenass was asked by presidential candidate Pinit Ngarmpring how the number 72 came about.
According to a June 15 report in The Bangkok Post, "Thierry said the number was set by Worawi." Interestingly, though, the Post published a retraction two days later following an alleged complaint by Makudi: "We incorrectly quoted FIFA official Thierry Regenass as saying that the number of voters in the upcoming FAT presidential election, which would be 72, was set by FAT president Worawi Makudi."
Indeed, Worawi did not determine the number and Regenass actually said: ‘FIFA has recommended that the pattern [of the number of voters] is suitable but is not compulsory for the FAT to
use it. We apologise for any inconvenience caused." Explains one insider: "Other clubs have never approved or agreed to the number 72. Worawi said FIFA suggested it. FIFA said it was agreed by FIFA and FAT."
All so very confusing. Yet it clears up one thing, as Pattaya FC maintains in its lawsuit: there is no obligation by FIFA for FAT's existing members to agree to the reduction from 184 to 72. As Regenass says, the number "is suitable but is not compulsory".
So why on earth would the existing stakeholders in the Thai game agree to it? They are within their rights to reject it yet it is being presented as a fait accompli; a metaphorical gun to their head. What exactly about the current number of 184 makes it such a clear and present danger to peace and order that FIFA is threatening one of the most important football nations in South-East Asia with exile if it doesn't agree to 72?
FIFA must accept some blame for this chaotic impasse. Their own statutes say nothing about how the assembly of a member association should be constituted, let alone what number of voting members is ideal or acceptable. They have given no explanation for why 72 is the right number. For their lack of communication and bumbling, pass-the-buck handling of this issue they have demonstrably failed in their duty of care to stakeholders in the Thai game.
Pinit took the unusual step this week of writing a letter addressed personally to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, secretary general Jerome Valcke, legal affair director Marco Villiger, and Regenass. In it he cuts to the chase: "The Thai football community in general including myself agreed to most of articles in the draft statutes. Only... the number and selection method of voting members is still in question, not only to me but to the football family in general."
"We inform you that FIFA is bound by and in no position to change decisions of the FIFA Associations Committee and that FAT is obligated to comply with such decisions."
It can't because it won't.
Which raises an important question: Why?