At the beginning of April, in the wake of serious allegations against him, I interviewed Asian football supremo Dato’ Alex Soosay. The under-fire Malaysian was unequivocal: he was innocent of any wrongdoing. Moreover, the dark days of the Asian Football Confederation’s corruption-tainted past were over, he said.
“I have the full support of my colleagues,” Soosay told me at the time.
Did he really believe that? After all, the AFC has long been rampant with personal interest. Soosay would presumably have been aware of that: he had spent a generation as its general secretary. Yet now he finds himself the fall guy, negating the very argument that divisions and tensions have been buried for good.
Whether or not he is guilty of claims that he had asked for any incriminatory evidence against him during the 2012 probe into the conduct of his one-time boss, Mohamed bin Hammam, to be removed, the fact is that Soosay’s past employers are back in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons – a mirror image, if you like, of the crisis afflicting FIFA.
The irony of Asian football’s number two official stepping down, of course, is that has happened just at the time when the AFC administration is bending over backwards to try a convince the region – and the world at large – that important strides are being taken to enter a new period of transparency and credibility. The reality is that Soosay has become the latest victim of internal shenanigans that have once again brutally exposed the actual lack of transparency despite efforts to suggest the contrary.
His resignation seems bound to fuel further calls for that infamous probe into the AFC’s internal affairs, carried out by PriceWaterhouseCooper, to be made public, something the AFC has long resisted, presumably for fear of what other revelations might come to light.
In the tersest of statements, just to recap, the AFC thanked Soosay “for his commitment to Asian football during his extensive 20-year-long career at the AFC and wishes him all the best for his future career.” Hardly the most ringing endorsement of his time in charge.
Soosay held the position of AFC general secretary since 2008 but he joins a long line of casualties since Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa’s came to power including former Bin Hammam allies Manilal Fernando of Sri Lanka, banned for life by FIFA for bribery, and Thailand’s Worawi Makudi.
The AFC’s laughable attempt to play down Soosay’s departure only re-inforces the mismanagement and shady dealings that have long plagued the organisation. Rather like the notorious Garcia report that still hangs like a dark cloud over FIFA, if the AFC really wants to be seen to be clean, every encouragement should now be given to making the PricewaterhouseCooper audit public. Not least because it is understood to have called into question the AFC’s exclusive marketing deal with Singapore-based World Sport Group.
Instead, in all probability the probe seems certain to remain under lock and key. The AFC obviously thinks it can put its house in order by other means. Sheikh Salman said as much at his re-election speech in Bahrain a few weeks ago when he promised a future based on unity. Throwing Soosay on the scrapheap (did he really willingly resign?) rather than taking collective responsibility by delving properly into the past and creating an ethics policy to be proud (one that has so far been relatively toothless), was hardly the best way to start or the most convincing message to throw out.
Andrew Warshaw was formerly Sports Editor of The European newspaper and is chief correspondent of Insideworldfootball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org