JAMES M DORSEY: Transparency appears nowhere on the radar of Asian football leaders as the world game reels from the worst crisis in its authorities’ history.
That was evident in a terse statement issued by the Asian Football Confederation announcing the resignation of its suspended general secretary, Dato Alex Soosay.
The statement made no mention of Soosay’s suspension, an investigation into the general secretary’s alleged attempt to tamper or hide documents related to an audit that uncovered suspected extensive corruption but has since been buried . . . or the fact that the AFC was forced to relieve Mr. Soosay of his duties after this writer revealed his apparent attempts to obstruct the audit.
Nor did It explain whether it would take action against the AFC’s finance director, Bryan Kuan Wee Hoong, who rejected Soosay’s alleged attempt but in the three years since did not deem it necessary to report the incident.
Amid judicial investigations in the United States and Switzerland that have already led to indictments of 14 officials of FIFA and regional football associations in the Americas as well as sport marketing companies and that could expand into the affairs of the Asian body, the AFC limited itself to saying that it “thank(s) Dato’ Alex Soosay for his commitment to Asian football during his extensive 20-year-long career at the AFC and wishes him all the best for his future career.”
The AFC’s effort to project Soosay’s departure as a run-of-the-mill resignation rather than the tip of an iceberg of mismanagement and potentially dubious dealings follows its earlier attempt to steer attention away from the audit by falsely announcing at the time of his suspension that it was related to a FIFA investigation rather than to the audit conducted by PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC).
Similarly, at a time that the judicial investigations have focused attention on the relationships between football executives and marketing companies, the AFC has yet to disclose the status of the investigation it announced into Soosay’s affairs, let alone how it intends to act on the wider ramification of the secretary general’s departure that involve recommendations of the audit that it has sought to bury for the past three years.
Burial of that audit is all the more conspicuous since the eruption of the FIFA scandal.
The audit documented multiple questionable payments by disgraced former AFC president and FIFA exco member Mohammed Bin Hammam. He is believed to be one of the unidentified co-conspirators in the US indictments and is also central to the Swiss investigation of FIFA’s awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.
The audit also raised serious questions about the AFC’s $1bn marketing rights agreement with Singapore-based World Sport Group and warned that the contract potentially could expose the AFC to charges of tax evasion, bribery, money laundering, and sanctions busting.
If anything, the AFC’s approach suggests that it believes that despite the global football governance crisis it can conduct business as usual with impunity.
This approach appears to justify widespread belief that FIFA and its regional confederations are incapable of putting their own house in order and that change can be achieved only if driven by external judicial and other forces.
AFC president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa’s only known action related to the audit beyond ensuring that there would be no follow-up was the suspension and ultimate departure of Soosay.
The AFC has been similarly evasive in commenting on the FIFA crisis wehich erupted last month on the eve of congress with the early morning arrests of officials in Zurich, the raiding of the headquarters of FIFA in Zurich and of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) in Miami, and ultimately the resignation of president Sepp Blatter.
AFC leaders has also yet to reveal what consequences it is drawing from the crisis in terms of reforms that would ensure good governance.
The statement said merely: “The Asian Football Confederation confirms its position as previously outlined, namely that the AFC takes note of the FIFA president’s intention to step down at an extraordinary congress scheduled to be called later this year or early 2016, which will be the subject of the upcoming FIFA Executive Committee meeting on 20 July.
“AFC fully respects the decision of the FIFA president to step down and is sure that it was taken after deep and careful consideration.”
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James M Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title.
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