India among South Asian countries to pull out of Saudi Arabia-led football bloc
In a major turn of events in Asian football politics, countries part of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) -- India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka -- have withdrawn from the Saudi Arabia-led South West Asian Football Federation (SWAFF).
The move comes on the eve of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Congress in Kuala Lumpur, where the continental governing body is expected to formally recognise the five regional confederations of the continent, including SAFF.
Formed in May, the creation of SWAFF had generated controversy as it omitted Saudi Arabia’s political foe Qatar as well as Jordan, whose football governing body had been at odds with that of the Saudis. Adding fuel to the fire was SWAFF chief Adel Ezzat’s resignation as president of the Saudi FA and his announcement of nomination for the AFC presidency next year.
AFC had initially show-caused member countries before allowing the creation of the body outside its five regional confederations. Officials of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) had, at the time, revealed that it had been promised an annual $500,000 grant for being part of SWAFF. Moreover, it was reported that India would play Saudi Arabia in an international friendly later this year. In June, AIFF senior vice-president Subrata Dutta had told PTI that India would play more West Asian countries by virtue of AIFF’s SWAFF membership.
However, after Ezzat didn’t turn up for a scheduled visit to India in August, there hasn’t been much progress in this front.
Speaking over the phone from Kuala Lumpur, SAFF general secretary Anwarul Huq said, “The AFC is recognising SAFF as one of the five regional bodies. Because of the recognition, we don’t want to be a part of SWAFF, which is not recognised.
“Our member associations became part of it (SWAFF) initially because of (promises of) development but nothing has been done so far. They are frustrated because of it and we thought it would be better to do it our way.”
After losing South Asia’s support, there could be more trouble for AFC president-aspirant Ezzat. Huq said that SAFF countries will be supporting current AFC president Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa in his re-election bid in 2019.
“We have unanimously decided that we will be voting for Sheikh Salman (for the AFC presidency),” said Huq.
Senior AIFF officials, including Dutta and federation general secretary Kushal Das didn’t respond to queries on the matter. The fate of the proposed friendly against Saudi Arabia also remains unclear.
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