It’s been another painful few weeks for the AFC and football in Asia as one leading club, a national league and two national teams were tainted by scandal.
Although there is at least a glimmer of hope that the wheels of progress are slowly creaking into action at the AFC’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, as demonstrated by moves on two of that quartet, there is quite clearly plenty of work still to be done.
Firstly came the news that the defending ACL champions Jeonbuk Hyundai had been excluded from this year’s tournament, then we had the expulsion and erasing of a tidal wave of ‘Timorese’ footballers and results.
The dramatic withdrawal of the ‘Cinderella’ story of the early rounds of World and Asian Cup qualifying, Guam, followed and lastly news is slowly trickling out of Laos that the game there is in total meltdown and no-one seems to be doing a whole lot about it.
Starting with the headline-grabbing move to declare Korean club Jeonbuk ‘ineligible’ to participate in the ACL. It’s pleasing to see the correct decision finally arrived at, but questions remain as to why they were able to enter the tournament in the first place in direct contravention of the AFC’s own statutes.
BREAKING: @Jeonbuk_hyundai to be excluded from the 2017 Asian Champions League?
— FOX Sports Asia (@FOXSportsAsia) December 22, 2016
Indeed, it’s reasonable to think if not for the dogged persistence of several media outlets, that whoever was pushing for Jeonbuk to enter the tournament may just have got their wish and the scandal-tainted club would have gone about their title defence unhindered.
In the end it took a newly established external body to accomplish work that should have never been necessary if not for the internecine politics involved, but if that’s what it takes then praise be to whoever at the AFC moved to have this body enacted in the first place.
Hopefully that’s a sign of greater independence within the halls of power and that should be applauded.
As should the move to finally strike at the corruption and malfeasance that has impeded any kind of progress within Timor-Leste virtually since the establishment of the nation’s football association almost a decade ago.
The AFC this week announced that a dozen players had illegally represented the national team over a stretch of five years and declared the results of 29 matches to be forfeited as a result.
Timor is now excluded from the 2023 Asian Cup.
It was found that the players were registered with falsified Timorese birth or Baptismal certificates with the federation’s general secretary, Amandio de Araujo Sarmanto, banned for three years. Another FFTL official was fined for attempting to interfere with a witness.
The nation has also been excluded from the 2023 Asian Cup and fined US$20,000 in a scandal that saw the national team record not just their first ever international victory, but also several subsequent impressive results whilst using these ineligible players.
The FFTL’s scandal-ridden president, Francisco Kalbuadi Lay, managed yet again to avoid sanction and some may view it as curious as to why there were no bans handed down to any of the players involved.
Even if they claim innocence, and FOX Sports Asia understands from speaking to several of them that is the case, questions deserve to be asked over why a player may be found guilty of, say, doping where innocence is not accepted as a legitimate excuse, yet it is in this case.
If these players were awarded nationality on the basis, as the AFC asserts, that falsified documents were submitted attempting to show that one or both of their parents were born in Timor you would assume the players themselves may start asking questions over how they were suddenly awarded citizenship of a far-flung nation that many may not have even heard of.
That those players remain eligible to play for clubs across the continent as a ‘plus one’ AFC player – dependent on each nation’s regulations – is also a situation sure to baffle rival teams and supporters although a decision that appears outside of the AFC’s remit.
Three-and-a-half thousand kilometres northwest we have the case of the idyllic Pacific island of Guam, whose national team stunned the continent with an impressive series of results en route to reaching the final stage of qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup.
Guam withdrew from the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
Primed to reach their maiden international tournament the team was suddenly withdrawn by their own association less than a month out from the draw. The GFA claimed that they could not afford the financial impost that would have come with the final round of matches.
Claims and counter-claims have emerged over who should accept blame for the situation, but if we are talking about a sum of barely a million dollars you would have liked to think that someone at the AFC may have thought it a good idea to find a solution to allow the tiny island to continue in their bid to reach the finals in the UAE.
Having garnered global headlines barely a year ago the team is now copping criticism from across much of the same swathe of the footballing planet that they charmed not so long ago – and that’s a black eye for all involved.
Finally we have the unraveling situation in Laos where eight clubs have withdrawn from the nation’s Premier League, throwing the future of the competition into serious doubt.
Hot on the heels of several national team players being handed bans by the AFC on suspicion of match-fixing this is another blow to football in the country.
FOX Sports Asia understands that there are serious concerns over how development money from FIFA and the AFC is distributed by the Lao Football Federation, that prize money from last year’s league is yet to be paid out and that referees are also owed salaries.
Lanexang Utd of Laos have announed they are withdrawing from Lao league and AFC Cup competitions. What's the effect on AFC Cup Group H?
— Phnom Penh Crown FC (@PhnomPenhCrown) January 23, 2017
Moreover there is no confirmed date for the start of the new league season, following a similar situation where dates for several other competitions across Southeast Asia were not confirmed until less than a month prior to kickoff.
All that in addition to suggestions that the LFF is set to push on with what would be a farcical league with as few as half a dozen clubs amidst severe conflicts of interest where club presidents also hold powerful positions within the national federation.
I’ve long argued that any genuine change to the cultural practices that are hindering the progress of football across much of Asia can only be solved by direct intervention from ‘head office.’
That means providing further support to the various departments and committees that are trying to flush out corruption and malpractice, but more importantly placing advisers and experts from outside the AFC into the various national associations and leagues with the most serious issues and working to enact change directly from the ground.
Otherwise the relatively small group of people at the AFC who believe that the main priority is developing and supporting the game – rather than playing politics and protecting those in power – will be continually running around trying to put out fires the likes of which we’ve seen over the past week.
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