Fed Cup fiasco brings to fore myriad conflicts of interest
The Federation Cup descended into farce on Friday after the defending champions Bashundhara Kings declined to participate, explaining their position to the game's local governing body 24 hours before the start of the tournament.
They found Muktijoddha Sangsad as a spiritual ally and ahead of the scheduled kick-off, Uttar Baridhara and a number of other clubs joined the bandwagon of withdrawal as both the scheduled matches on Saturday -- Bashundhara Kings v Swadhinata KS and Uttar Baridhara v Abahani -- did not see the ball roll.
This was an embarrassment in waiting for the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) even though it probably did not anticipate the rebellion would come from one of its own -- the Bashundhara Kings,a club owned by the Bashundhara Group, title sponsors of the tournament, and helmed by Imrul Hasan, one of its vice-presidents.
The premise for withdrawal of the most glamorous club in current football scene was a valid one as their appeal to shift the venue from the Birshreshtha Shaheed Mostafa Kamal Stadium, a venue which witnessed a number of serious injuries during the Independence Cup earlier this month, fell on deaf ears. What was more disturbing to Kings was the last-minute tweaking of the tournament fixtures, allegedly aimed at giving advantage to another club.
"We thought that the changes in fixture format was done to give advantage to a specific team. These sorts of events occurred many times before including in the Independence Cup. We had pent up grievance over time and our withdrawal was a reaction to that," Imrul told media, citing other issues where he felt the BFF was biased and hoping this 'jolt would help make BFF and its competitions committee more professional and honest in future'.
BFF's senior vice-president Abdus Salam Murshedy appeared at an impromptu press conference at the venue in the evening, making a brave face and appearing adamant not to bow to the demands of the clubs.
"The Federation Cup will continue. If the scheduled matches don't take place tomorrow [Sunday], then we will see. Those who haven't come have made mistakes. Everything will go as per the bylaws of the tournament," Murshedy, also the chairman of the professional league committee, told reporters.
Whether Imrul and the revolting clubs had more weight in their arguments than the BFF is a matter of argument, but there is no denying that the points raised by the Kings exposed an age-old issue of our domestic football: conflict of interest. And that there are not just one or two cases of conflicts, in fact the structure of our domestic football is riddled with multiple such cases.
For a starter, there is a weird case of such conflict regarding this very tournament, namely the Bashundhara Group Federation Cup. Isn't this quite unheard of that a major group of companies of the country sponsors a tournament where one of its clubs are title contenders? Can we rule out any undue influence in course of the tournament, not just in results but also in case of decision-making?
It's like Banco Santander running Real Madrid in la Liga or TIM sponsoring Juventus in Serie A, for that matter, which obviously don't happen since those leagues are run in a truly professional manner.
While both Imrul and Murshedy rejected the idea that a conflict of interest could arise from such a situation, the power-mongering from Bashundhara Kings in this instance -- unilaterally walking out of the tournament and reportedly influencing a few other clubs to follow them -- only points in that direction.
The Kings president spoke of the injustice against his team and a bias towards another specific club. Interestingly, his club has been the beneficiary of such bias -- if allegations of partiality from some other clubs including Sheikh Jamal DC in the past and Police FC more recently -- are to be true. When the president of a top-tier club also acts as a vice-president of the federation, aren't such questions and suspicions obvious?
While Imrul did not take any names, it is not hard to imagine that he was pointing his finger at Abahani, the club purportedly the subject of the tweak in fixture and one that is helmed by one of his colleagues at the BFF.
These are some of the issues that have been swept under the carpet for far too long, stunting the growth of domestic football. In the past, we've seen cases of match-fixing proved, albeit after initially being denied by the federation and some small-time culprits bearing the brunt. However, almost never have the bigger beneficiaries been brought to book. To remind of the old adage, it takes two to tango.
Sadly, this chain of conflict of interest and power-mongering isn't just limited to club football, but also extends to the national team.
Despite repeated promises from the higher-ups of the game's local governing body, we are yet to see a non-club-executive in the national team manager's post. When the manager or the coach of the national team comes from yielding his power in recruiting and managing/coaching players of a certain club, yielding substantial influence over the players and developing personal choices round the year, isn't there likely to be an impact when making decisions over picking and commanding the national team?
Now that the BFF has taken a strong stance and the clubs appearing adamant not to budge, it will be interesting to see what the revolt will lead to eventually. Even if the BFF accommodates some space and take steps to correct what is intrinsically is a faulty system, then we could expect to see at least some of the mess in our domestic football cleaned up.