Dark days for Asian soccer and its leader
As suspended Asian Football Confederation (AFC) head Mohamed bin Hammam departs Zurich fighting bribery allegations, soccer in his continent of Asia struggles to combat match-fixing, violence and money issues that threaten to tarnish the Qatari’s belief that the future is Asia.
Bin Hammam faces a battle to clear his name after a Fifa ethics committee in Switzerland suspended him from all soccer duties for alleged bribery during his defunct Fifa presidency campaign while his members, who have yet to come out in full support of their suspended leader, battle their own problems.
South Korea and Malaysia have been hit by match-fixing scandals with Singapore blighted by violence. Indonesia is flirting with a Fifa ban as they fail to elect a new chairperson and clubs in Australia continue to struggle financially.
Amongst that, the 2022 Qatar World Cup organising committee have been compelled to release three statements in the last month denying accusations from different corners that they bribed voters in winning the right to host the world’s biggest sporting event.
Bin Hammam unveiled a Fifa presidential campaign manifesto in March aimed at clearing up Fifa and making the organisation more transparent but his credentials, should he contend again in four years time, to implement that plan look blotted as the continent he has led for nine years faces a raft of issues.
“I think the Asian football environment is not that healthy,” acting AFC chief Zhang Jilong said in an interview in English on China’s state TV on Wednesday.
“We need, let’s say, a revolution, we need reform to make more clear and more fair play environment in Asian football areas.”
South Korea society has been rocked by an ongoing investigation into match-fixing in the country’s national sport with police arresting five players in connection with the scandal.
Another player was found dead in his hotel room on Monday with the Yonhap news agency reporting a suicide note was found referring to the match-fixing.
The head of the K League apologised on Monday for the scandal with more than 1 000 players, coaches, referees and officials all signing a pledge on Wednesday to rid the game of the problem.
In Malaysia, a country with a history of match-fixing in soccer, a police report was filed last week by one of the teams in the top flight who voiced concerns that there was some wrong-doing in one of their youth matches.
“The public are just beginning to have faith in our football, and if this happens again, it will destroy their confidence,” Youth and Sports minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek said last week of the allegations.
Just over the causeway in Singapore, S League sides Etoile FC and Houngang United were suspended after the two teams brawled before kick-off with four players requiring hospital treatment.
The incident was the latest in an ugly trend in Singaporean soccer with a coach of S-League side Young Lions receiving a season-long touchline ban after manhandling the referee in a March match whilst Brazilian soccer great Pele watched from the stands.
Fifa’s head of security Chris Eaton also said the city-state seemed to have an ‘academy of match-fixers’ who were responsible for rigging matches around the world.
Elsewhere, Australia may have a strong on-field record having reached the Asian Cup final in January and beating Germany in a friendly in March but off the field the Football Federation of Australia have been forced to provide financial aid to a raft of their A League sides.
In Indonesia, Fifa appointed a normalisation committee to oversee the country’s football association elections but, after a number of delays and arguments about who was eligible to stand, the congress was halted after opponents of former chairman Halid broke into the meeting.
Indonesian officials pleaded to avoid a ban and they were granted a extra month to elect a new leader in a surprise move by Fifa, perhaps due to world soccer’s governing body trying to deal with their own problems.
Thailand and Philippines have also had issues with their leadership elections as Asian soccer struggles only a few months after they were celebrating the news the World Cup would return to the continent in 2022 and that they may have a strong presidential contender to run Fifa.
Argentine great Diego Maradona’s decision to take a hefty pay day to coach United Arab Emirates club Al Wasl and European leagues continuing to bring forward match kick-off times for an Asian audience shows that, despite the problems, Asia is still proving a powerful force in world soccer.
However, despite their wealth and growing clout, until the continued issues of bad management and corruption go away they will continue to be poor cousins to their European counterparts Uefa.
“The fundamental skills in Asia are not as strong as in Europe or South America so the basis is poor in Asia,” Zhang said. “We need to unite together and work harder to get more attention from the rest of the world to the AFC.”—Reuters.