The governing body of Asian football has warned that the Maldives could face suspension “from all football activities” over government interference in the long-delayed elections of the Football Association of Maldives (FAM).
The warning came after the ministry of youth and sports ordered the FAM – the local chapter of FIFA, world football’s governing body – to postpone an election due to take place on Thursday. The sports ministry intervened after the the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) launched an investigation into alleged bribery and vote buying.
FAM General Secretary Bassam Adeel Jaleel told The Maldives Independent that the election will take place as scheduled despite the government’s objections.
“We are set to continue with the election as the Maldives could face action if the election is delayed due to government influence,” he said.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the regional governing body, informed FAM in a letter today that the association is obliged to “strictly adhere to the statutes of FIFA and the AFC.”
Under FIFA rules, a member association may be suspended if it “may no longer be considered as fully responsible for the organisation of football-related matters in its territory” due to significant interference by state authorities.
Representatives from FIFA and AFC are due to arrive in the Maldives to observe the voting process.
Last week, FIFA suspended Kuwait’s football association over government interference. Kuwaiti teams and clubs were banned from international competitions and its association was barred from receiving development assistance.
The FAM’s election has been delayed for more than a year due to infighting in its executive committee over the association’s constitution. The deadlock forced FIFA to intervene in December last year.
FIFA removed the FAM’s former president, Ilham Ahmed, after he failed to pass the FAM’s constitution, which would have been followed by a congress to elect members to the association’s executive committee.
FIFA formed an interim five-member “normalisation committee” headed by local businessman Mohamed Shaweed to oversee the drafting of a new constitution.
A new constitution proposed by FIFA was adopted with the support of a majority of local football clubs last month.
The new constitution will allow 44 member clubs to elect a new FAM president. The previous rules restricted voting to the 13 clubs in the first, second and third divisions of the Maldivian football league, but the membership has been expanded to include clubs from atoll zones.
Meanwhile, an anonymous complaint was filed at the ACC after the normalisation committee set a date to convene an elective congress.
ACC spokesperson Hassan Manik confirmed to The Maldives Independent that the anti-corruption watchdog was looking into “alleged cases of undue influence and bribery ahead of the FAM congress.”
The sports ministry asked the FAM in a letter yesterday to postpone the election.
A spokesperson at the ministry initially denied having told the FAM to postpone the election, but later acknowledged sending a letter. “We asked the FAM to postpone the election due to accusations of bribery, corruption and undue process,” he said.
Shaweed, the head of the normalisation committee and the sole candidate for FAM’s presidency, told The Maldives Independent that the sports ministry’s letter did not have a signature.
Accusations of bribery and corruption do not warrant further postponement of the election, he said.
“For example look at FIFA’s President Sepp Blatter. The FAM’s work should not be compromised due to allegations. And according to the rules, a person cannot continue in his post after a conviction,” Shaweed said.
Blatter was suspended this month with FIFA engulfed in a corruption scandal that surfaced earlier this year.
As Shaweed is the only candidate, he faces a yes or no vote. If he is elected, the executive committee will comprise of a team of his choosing.
He has proposed former national team striker Ali Umar and Deputy Environment Minister Mohamed Hanim as his deputies.
Other members on Shaweed’s team include Mohamed Shakeeb, head of FAM’s medical team, Mariyam Mohamed ‘Mayan’, AFC’s women committee member, Mohamed Sinan, a coordinator at the youth ministry, Aishath Zamra, Bank of Maldives’ marketing director, Hassan Hameed, and Hassan Mohamed.
The new rules also required Shaweed to secure support from at least three clubs in the first division. He now has support from seven clubs.
The FAM has reportedly been at loggerheads with the sports ministry in recent weeks. The latter’s failure to complete maintenance of the national stadium’s grass pitch forced FAM to relocate league matches to the ‘milo turf pitch’ at the Maafanu stadium.
In September, the Maldives was forced to play both legs of its 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches against China away from home after Independence Day celebrations left the national stadium’s pitch damaged beyond use.