Under-radar AFF elections promise drama

Brigadier General Khiev Sameth

The Asian Football Confederation polls next month have drawn much interest but there’s another election this weekend that promises plenty of drama too.

Little has been highlighted about the Asean Football Federation (AFF) polls scheduled on March 17 in Siem Reap, Cambodia, but it is one that will see a series of firsts.

For starters, Maj Gen Khiev Sameth is set to be the first Cambodian to helm the regional body after Al Sultan Abdullah Shah pulled out from the race when he was named Malaysia’s king. Al Sultan Abdullah was in the running to replace his father, Sultan Ahmad Shah, who has been president since 2011.

This marks the first time Malaysia has relinquished the presidency since Tan Sri Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen Tengku Ismail was elected in 1996. Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen was the third AFF president after Indonesia’s Kardono (1984-1994) and Thailand’s Vijit Ketkeaw (1994-1996).

The new office bearers will be the first to occupy the soon-to-be-ready AFF headquarters in Precint 5, Putrajaya.

Three of the four vice-presidents nominated are FA of Malaysia’s president Datuk Hamidin Amin, Timor Leste’s Francisco Kalbuadi Lay and Myanmar Football Federation president U Zaw Zaw.

And this will be the first time, after a long time, where general secretary Datuk Azzuddin Ahmad faces uncertainty.

The clock is ticking as he has served close to seven years in the federation. According to the AFF statute, the general secretary is appointed by the president in consultation with the council.

Winston Lee is tipped to replace Azzuddin. Little has been heard about Lee, the long-serving Singapore FA general secretary who quit in 2017 following a police probe on allegations of corruption.

There have been no updates on the police investigation but insiders claim Lee has “apparently been cleared of all charges”. The Singaporean will be contesting in the AFC elections on April 6 too.

Sameth and Lee are said to enjoy a cordial relationship. If the talk is true, the Singaporean will in all probability call Putrajaya home.

While there have been calls for AFF to inject young blood to rejuvenate itself, some prefer Azzuddin to stay put, at least until the new headquarters is completed.

But former army general Azzuddin, who was once FA of Malaysia general secretary, is prepared for the worst.

Not wanting to comment much on the looming elections, Azzuddin said: “I’ve been in AFF since the ground-breaking ceremony (of the new headquarters) and now it’s about 90 per cent complete. Of course it would be nice to see the completion of the project.

“There have been challenging moments but overall I’m satisfied with what we have done. The AFF has come a long way … and it is now recognised by the AFC and will soon be by FIFA.”

Azzuddin said the AFF statute needs to be improved to make it consistent with the wants of AFC and FIFA.

Asked about his thoughts on this Sunday’s affair, he said: “I’m prepared for the worst”.

Occupying a position within the AFF, for any football official, would mean securing a better footing at AFC and even FIFA. While the office bearers may chest-thump their past efforts, the standard of football in the region remains low as teams generally struggle to compete without financial woes, including paying wages, in their respective domestic leagues.

National team standards in the region are also low as they struggle against their more established counterparts in Asia and beyond. To most of these teams, the AFF Cup is their version of the World Cup.

An uphill task awaits the new AFF team as fans hope they will tackle the right issues and help member nations succeed beyond Southeast Asia – and that would be a most welcome continuation of the series of firsts involving AFF.