Will Thai football be the winner?

sports October 16, 2013 00:00

By Kitinan Sanguansak
The Nation

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Fans fear for worst as FA chief Worawi looks poised to be re-elected

Thai football is at a crossroads once again. The long-drawn-out saga of the Thai Football Association’s presidential election reaches its conclusion tomorrow, when the clubs make the crucial decision of which man to pick to take the sport forward.
The outcome of tomorrow’s poll to find a new head of the FA could go a long way in defining the future of Thai football.
With only two candidates to choose from – the incumbent Worawi Makudi and challenger Virach Chanpanich – the voters must be mindful of the pitfalls of a wrong decision that could leave the country mired in its present footballing mediocrity.
But efforts to link the election with national politics – with Thaksin Shinawatra painted as the man behind Worawi, and Virach backed by de facto Bhum Jai Thai party leader Newin Chidchob – indicate there may be greater things at stake.
As the country’s biggest sport association, the FA has never been far from controversy in recent years, and this latest election is no exception. The vote should have been staged five months ago in mid-June when Worawi’s third consecutive two-year mandate expired.
However, the association was unable to conduct the poll as scheduled due to a dispute over its controversial effort to get FA regulations in line with new Fifa statutes. The move, which included reducing the number of voting members, was seen as an effort by the incumbent Worawi to gain an advantage in the poll.
Pattaya FC successfully secured an injunction that prevented the association from voting to revise its rules. But the club dropped legal action after Fifa threatened to suspend Thailand for non-compliance.
Thai football, however, was still stuck in an impasse, with the number of clubs eligible to vote remaining the bone of contention. It again required Fifa’s mediation to find a compromise on the issue. 
Virach eventually agreed with the figure of 72 voting members on condition that 30 would come from the third-tier league and be made up of the top five teams in each of five regional zones at the end of the first leg of the current season.
The stage is now set for the election, but five months on from the original date, the momentum appears to have shifted towards a fourth consecutive term for Worawi as the likely outcome.
The scenario has echoes of two years ago when Worawi seemed on the brink of losing a post he had held since 2007, when he made a sudden decision to call off the initial election, citing duplication of club’s voting IDs.
He allegedly postponed the vote only after being alerted that he was trailing Virach. By the time the re-arranged election took place, Worawi’s camp had managed to regroup, and won the poll comfortably.
It now looks highly likely that the result will be a repeat of two years ago, despite Worawi’s latest term in office showing no improvement on his previous two, with Thailand’s solitary international title during his tenure being the 2007 SEA Games trophy.
This record is a far cry from the days under Virach’s time with the national set-up, when as manager he guided the Thai side to five SEA Games titles from mid ’90s to the early 2000s. During that period, he also took Thailand to a highest-ever Fifa ranking of 41st in the world.
Given the two men’s contrasting records for the national side, Virach has stood out among fans as the right man for the job. A poll of fans conducted by popular football website, goal (thailand).com saw Virach’s presidential bid receive a majority 64.2 per cent votes.
Virach’s manifesto, “we will go to the World Cup in this lifetime”, has also caught the imagination of those who want to see a major change at the Thai FA after years of underachieving under Worawi’s leadership.
Unfortunately, the outcome of the election is not decided by the candidates’ policies, something Worawi is well aware of – he has barely talked about what he plans to do if re-elected. Instead, he has concentrated round the clock on lobbying for votes behind the scenes.
Of course, there is a pre-existing clear divide among FA member clubs, and many have long since made up their minds regardless of the candidates’ policies. Thai football fans are bracing themselves for an anticlimax as this long overdue election draws to its conclusion.

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