SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The long-discussed Southeast Asian Super League has been given another revised launch date but with soccer administration in the 11-nation bloc in a fraught state, questions remain whether it is still too soon or even wanted.
The 12-team league featuring a side from each of the region’s members, and possibly Australia, is now due to kickoff in August 2016, after initially being slated for this year and then pushed back again because of “administrative delays.”
Azzuddin Ahmad, general secretary of the Asean Football Federation (AFF), told the Straits Times last week, the ASL has been given the green light by FIFA but there remain many red flags among the participating members.
Arguably the biggest market, Indonesia, is banned from all football by FIFA after government interference in the running of the sport, with local media reporting on Tuesday that the football association had ruled out playing in the inaugural edition.
The most talented country in the region, Thailand, have other issues, with their Football Association President Worawi Makudi found guilty of forgery last month and facing a battle for power.
Both Thailand and Indonesia have previously questioned the merits of the new tournament.
Meanwhile, Malaysian football continues to flounder amid public outcry at the running of the game following humbling results for the national team and fixture congestion in the domestic league. A new tournament seems an unlikely solution.
The paper said Malaysia had planned to enter an under-18 side into the tournament, suggesting a lack of enthusiasm.
Elsewhere, the region’s eternal problem of match-fixing struck Vietnam again last year, while developing Myanmar battle to resolve continued crowd trouble that has led to them being banned from playing home World Cup qualifiers.
And in Laos, the BBC reported last month that young African players were being “trafficked” to the communist country and forced to sign contracts with clubs.
The sorry state of the game in the densely populated, soccer obsessed region suggests work needs to be done before taking on board another project. The issues are unlikely to help convince Asian champions Australia to get involved.
Despite the problems, Singapore are understood to be the ones pushing hard for the new league’s introduction and will host the organisers headquarters, but the local FA has come under fire regarding the struggling domestic S.League.
With falling attendances, clubs dropping out of the league citing rising costs, and local media reports of the whole competition possibly being disbanded, Singaporean clubs were already edgy before the proposition of a new eight-month league.
“If they are going to launch an ASL, then at least let us know early,” Geylang International coach Jorg Steinebrunner told the Straits Times.
“At this time, most clubs are already planning for the next season.”
However, there is no guarantee the ASL will start in 2016.
World Sports Group, the Singapore-based marketing partners of the Asian Football Confederation, who are involved in the project, hinted at another delay when vice-president Malcolm Thorpe said the start date represented a “tight timeline”.
Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by John O'Brien