By Suresh Nair
THE outgoing Football Association of Singapore (FAS) boss Zainudin Nordin got some good news as he landed in the Indian city of Goa over the weekend for Tuesday’s AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Extraordinary Congress.
Zainudin, a former Member of Parliament, is one of six Asian candidates contesting for three positions as a FIFA Council Member.
But in an abrupt move, FIFA has advised that, based on the report of the Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee, Saoud A.Aziz Al-Mohannadi (Qatar) is not eligible to stand in the elections for the FIFA Council.
The Ethics Committee recommended a two-and-a-half-year ban from the game for Al-Mohannadi, Vice President of the Qatar Football Association, for refusing to cooperate with an inquiry. FIFA has not revealed the subject of the inquiry, but it is not connected with the 2022 World Cup, which Qatar will host.
Now, only five from Zhang Jian (China PR), Ali Kafashian Naeni (Islamic Republic of Iran), and Zainudin Nordin (Singapore) as well as female candidates, Moya Dodd (Australia), Mahfuza Ahkter (Bangladesh) and Han Un Gyong (DPR Korea) will be contesting the three available seats, with at least one of those places reserved for a female member.
ASEAN FLAG BEARER
Good news for Zainudin, when at one stage he appeared to be a foregone exit-candidate? He appears now to be representing the Asean fold (AFF: Asean Football Federation) and is hoping that his election to the FIFA Council will boost his chances of starting the ASL (Asean Super League), hopefully, middle of next year.
AFC insiders say the favourites for the three FIFA Council positions are Zhang Jian (China PR), Ali Kafashian Naeni (Islamic Republic of Iran) and Moya Dodd (Australia).
Zainudin may be edged out because he recently announced that he’s not a continuing head of an AFC affiliate and not standing for another term as FAS President, with the adjourned controversial annual general meeting, now scheduled for end of the year.
Singapore’s global football position as a cruddy 157 in the FIFA ranking may also weigh negatively against Zainudin, say AFC insiders.
But close friends of the 53-year-old Zainudin say that he’s campaigning as an “underdog” to seriously raise the voices of the smaller affiliates, particularly those from Asean.
ZAINUDIN’S BIG GOAL
Zainudin wants to spearhead the proposed Asean Super League (ASL) between domestic clubs sides under the AFF umbrella. He believes the ASL can help local players make the step up to bigger stages and in the wider scheme of things, improve Singapore’s national team.
Explaining how the ASL can serve as an outlet for local stars to move up to, Zainudin said: “There’s a lot of talent aspiring beyond the local leagues, who want to go to the Japanese, Korean or even European leagues. But sometimes the jump is just too big, so we need to think about how we can provide for this vacuum of space, and I think the ASL will be a game-changer for that.
“The reality is that this is a region of more than 600 million people who are crazy about football. Don’t you feel that talent in Singapore will look at that and think they have a path; a journey to look forward to?”
But before getting off the starting block, even in getting FIFA approval, Zainudin is facing very stern opposition in South-east Asia.
The influential Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, Crown Prince of Johor and chairman of Malaysian Super League (MSL) club Johor Darul Takzim brushed off Zainudin’s idea: “I don’t agree with the ASL. I think we’re (South-east Asian football) still young and we (should) focus on how it is done in Europe. For now, the Asian Champions League is the highest target. The ASL is not really my cup of tea.”
For starters, keep your fingers crossed for Zainudin to win one of the three FIFA Council Member seats. If he doesn’t, then his dream ASL may well face another big blow at its womb-stage. And that may well be the end the footballing destiny of the outgoing FAS President.
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist with credible links with AFC and FIFA over the past two decades.