By: Suresh Nair
FOOTBALL solidarity, like playing the “bola” game in the sportsmanship-way in the field of play, is sacred. Absolutely solemn and spiritual. It’s a sanctified team bonding to send a very clear message that “united we stand, divided we fall”.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) showed daring consensus on Tuesday in the Indian resort city of Goa to postpone the upcoming FIFA Council elections and Extraordinary Congress.
AFC President Shaikh Salman Al Khalifa, in supporting the extraordinary 42-1 vote that sent a tsunami-like signal to FIFA not to meddle in AFC affairs, said: “Today the AFC and Asian football has shown solidarity. The message has been clear to everyone both inside and outside Asia.”
The meeting, which was attended by the most influential Asian football leaders lasted only 27 minutes, in the presence of an embarrassed FIFA President Gianni Infantino. Representatives of the AFC’s member countries unanimously voted to call off the congress and postpone the council elections.
The proposed Extraordinary Congress aimed to elect three new representatives to the FIFA Council, the world’s official association football decision-making body.
But what had Asian delegates almost on the verge of jaws-dropping was Singapore’s decision to vote against the united AFC flow and outgoing FAS President Zainudin Nordin putting in the solitary stubborn vote.
Why, when, how, where and what made him to do it continues to be a perplexing and puzzling talking point from Jordan to Japan, Bahrain to Bhutan, Indonesia to India as every AFC affiliate believed in the absolute bond of solidarity protest votes after FIFA, at the eleventh hour, disqualified Qatar representative Saoud A. Aziz Al-Mohannadi in running for a spot in the council.
In a compelling and commanding rhetoric to FIFA, Sheikh Salman added: “The congress has spoken with one voice and that has been clear for us all to see. (FIFA President) Gianni Infantino, I am not sure if you have been at a shorter congress but I think you can see the strength of opinion in the room.”
THE ‘LONE RANGER’
Several leading Asian newspapers said Zainudin Nordin, one of the candidates for the FIFA Executive Council post (the others were Chinese Football Association general secretary Zhang Jian and former Iranian Football Federation president Ali Kafashian Naeni) voted negatively, like a dissident Lone Ranger, because he “was set to benefit from his Qatari opponent being excluded”.
Zainudin, a former Member of Parliament, remained mum over his rabble-rouser decision but he told The New Paper’s Shamir Osman: “There were rumours over the last few days that something was happening. The members have spoken, and we will have to abide by what the majority has voted for.
“For the record, I had no issues with the agenda and, as it turned out, I was the only one to approve it.”
As a journalist covering AFC matters for three decades, I’m shocked at Singapore’s revolutionary vote in Goa against the spirit of Asian and/or Asean solidarity. I’ve always believed in continental solidarity as it’s a unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals or affiliates with a common interest, and more importantly, mutual support within a group, for a serious bigger cause.
Somehow, I feel indignantly sorry that Zainudin had shot himself in the foot, with the lone solitary, and non-AFC solidarity vote. Now I wonder if he had acted singularly or with the approval of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) executive council. Or even with the Asean Football Federation (AFF), wherein all the Asean delegates voted for a harmonious AFC protest against FIFA.
More worrying, after speaking to some of the AFC delegates who attended the Goa meeting, the growing groundswell is that Singapore stands to be treated as an “outcast” in future AFC deliberations because of its “astonishing vote against the majority”.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s unbearable to see Singapore acting alone against Asian solidarity,” said a senior Gulf delegate, who asked not to be named. “This is not in the good spirit of gamesmanship to try and be a one-man ‘Rambo’ against the united AFC cause to let FIFA know that we stand in solidarity after FIFA disqualified (Qatar Vice President) Saoud A. Aziz Al-Mohannadi in running for a spot in the council.”
Another senior delegate from Asean, who spoke on anonymity, said: “We were just shaking our heads when only Singapore voted contrary to a powerful AFC stand. Now, I think Singapore may be treated as an outcast in the AFC fraternity because they don’t believe in a continental team-spirit.”
AFC insiders say another AFC extraordinary meeting will be called, probably in last week of November to tie-in with the annual AFC Awards in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. And it would be wise for Zainudin Nordin or any Singapore delegate to withdraw from contesting for one of the three FIFA Executive Council member posts.
“It’s a certainty. Forty-two AFC delegates will surely vote against any Singapore candidate because of Zainudin Nordin’s decision not to play ball in solidarity with AFC spirit,” said a top-ranking official from South Asia, which represents countries in the Indian sub-continent.
It is also learnt that the proposed Asean Super League (ASL), which Zainudin is spearheading next year, may also be overlooked because of the his astonishing contradictory vote in Goa.
End of the day, there must be a sense of commonsense and perspective. You wonder sometimes about the excessive reactions after a stickling Singapore vote on the international stage.
Football is about solidarity and global unity. It’s not just winning, and never losing any more games. It’s part of regional sportsmanship and gamesmanship. What makes me resentful is the almost certain red-card reaction, set to come from the excruciating Asian football fraternity.
Sometimes, in hindsight, we live to regret. I wish Zainudin realises that we live in a global football society where “united we stand, divided we fall” and commonsense dictates never to go overboard.
In global football, we do not play to be relegated. We are playing to fight for a continental goal of the world’s largest affiliate and sometimes we must put privy and peculiar criticism in the right place.
Sad, Singapore looks set to pay a big price for a stunted, yet significant, dissenting vote at the AFC Congress in Goa. A castaway role we can ill afford as a little red-dot island-nation, which usually punches, rather fearlessly, above its weight and gains laudable international attention.
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who has covered the AFC scene for more than three decades and knows the longer-term significance of this Singapore discordant vote in Goa.