The Football Association of Maldives dismissed Tuesday claims of politicization as controversy grows around the exclusion of a top footballer, who is also a leading opposition activist, from the Maldives campaign for the 2019 Asian Cup.
Ashad ‘Adubarey’ Ali, a talented midfielder who serves on the council of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, was left out of the national squad despite performing well in the first leg of a play-off against Laos.
The Maldives had defeated Laos 4-0 on September 4, and is scheduled to play the second leg of the match on October 11.
The MDP blamed Adubarey’s exclusion on politicisation of the FAM.
“Ashad Ali was excluded from the national team because of the government’s influence. This is a cowardly act aimed at intimidation,” the MDP said in a statement on Monday.
Darren Stewart, who was appointed head coach of the Maldives in July, dismissed the claim, telling reporters on Tuesday that Ashad was “excluded for bad form.”
He said: “After the home game against Laos, he has not played a game or even joined a training session. I don’t think he is fit enough to play a competitive game away from home in this state.”
“Adubarey is a very talented footballer and I am not questioning that. He is still very much a part of the national team.”
Ashad did not respond to calls for comment.
The footballer drew international press attention following a cunning penalty routine that helped Maldives secure third place in the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup over Afghanistan.
He feinted a fall in a penalty shoot out, before quickly getting back up and to score the winning goal. A video of the goal has been viewed more than 12 million times on YouTube.
The FAM meanwhile is no stranger to allegations of politicisation.
In the latest controversy on September 18, Bassam Adeel Jaleel, the FAM’s secretary general was sacked, prompting five others on the seven member committee to resign en masse.
FAM President Ahmed Thoriq, an MP of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives, claimed he had sacked Bassam because he had failed to perform his duties. But the members who resigned accused Thoriq of mismanagement.
FIFA, the world football’s governing body, has since urged FAM to reinstate Bassam and hold snap elections.
FAM had only narrowly avoided a ban from international football earlier this year, when it failed to hold polls for nearly two years due to infighting, corruption allegations, and government interference. Thoriq’s election as president hours before a FIFA deadline helped Maldives avert the ban.