The Maldives has narrowly avoided a ban from international football after the national football association elected today a new executive team led by ruling party MP Ahmed Thoriq ‘Tom.’
The Football Association of Maldives was facing automatic suspension from FIFA, world football’s governing body, if it did not adopt revised statutes and hold elections before a deadline of May 31.
Thoriq, a former star striker for Malé’s New Radiant Sports Club as well as the national team, was elected FAM president unopposed at an extraordinary congress held this morning, hours before the FIFA deadline elapsed.
The MP for the constituency of Alif Dhaal Mahibadhoo secured the votes of 19 out of 21 member clubs.
The polls had been delayed for nearly two years due to infighting, corruption allegations, and government interference, prompting FIFA in December 2014 to remove the association’s former president, MP Ahmed Ilham, and appoint a “normalisation committee” to draft new governing statutes.
Under FIFA rules, a member association must be “fully responsible for the organisation of football-related matters in its territory” without significant interference by state authorities.
Kuwait’s football association was suspended last October over government interference. Kuwaiti teams and clubs were banned from international competitions and its association was barred from receiving development assistance.
Ahmed Marzooq, secretary general of the Olympic Committee, told The Maldives Independent that today’s election was the “smoothest” the FAM has had in years.
“I am very happy with the [executive committee]. I’m not saying that they will not have any bumps on the road but we have found a way forward with a board full of champions,” he said, expressing optimism for the future under the new leadership.
But an experienced football player, on the condition of anonymity, said that Maldivian football has not progressed under an FAM led by politicians.
“So far, this is the third parliamentarian president we have had. MP presidents in the past have failed to bring any significant development,” he said.
He suggested that other members of the executive committee also have links to the ruling coalition.
As the sole candidate, Thoriq faced a yes or no vote and was elected along with an eight-member executive committee of his choosing. Former football stars Mohamed Kaleem and Ali Umar were endorsed as vice presidents.
The other exco members include Ahmed Zareer, head of marketing at the Bank of Maldives, Ahmed Shakeeb, long-time sports physician at FAM, Assad Abdul Ghani, a former national team captain, Ahmed Shiyam, chairman of Club Eagles, Mohamed Easa, manager of TC Sports Club, and Aishath Nazima, a board member of New Radiant.
An attempt to hold the FAM election in October last year had failed after the sports ministry asked for a postponement following allegations of bribery and vote buying.
Mohamed Shaweed, a local businessman and former head of the normalisation committee, was the only candidate for FAM president at the time.
Despite announcing his intention to seek the post again two months ago, Shaweed did not apply before a deadline earlier this month. Shaweed had also resigned as chairman of the normalisation committee.
Today’s election was held after numerous attempts to revise FAM’s charter in line with recommendations from both FIFA and the home ministry.
FIFA had rejected statutes adopted in March whilst the home ministry asked for provisions detailing procedures for divesting FAM’s assets and property in the event of dissolution.
The previous rules also restricted voting to the 13 clubs in the first, second and third divisions of the Maldivian football league. But the membership was expanded to 44 to include clubs from atoll zones when the statutes were revised earlier this month.
The revised statutes were registered with the home ministry on May 10.
Speaking to The Maldives Independent, Bassam Adeel Jameel, FAM’s newly appointed secretary general, explained that 24 member clubs were eligible to vote at today’s congress.
“There’s a transitional clause that says the remaining slots needs to be formed within two years and to give them membership to vote,” he said.
Newly formed associations for players, referees, women’s football, futsal, beach football will also be eligible to vote.
Bassam suggested that fraud and vote buying would be difficult in a 44-member congress.
“It will not completely stop vote buying and corruption, but a 44-member congress is harder to buy than a 13-member congress,” he said.
Bassam also sought to deflect criticism over the uncontested election for FAM president.
“A period was given for contestants to apply. However, Tom was the only one that expressed interest before the deadline. So the opportunity to contest was open,” he said.