Football the hostage as top two fight it out (29/04/2012)

Once a can of worms is opened, it becomes nearly impossible to contain them.

This could be a metaphor for the battle between a big shot in the Football Association of Thailand and a political big gun-turned-football club owner.

The bombshell that Buriram United president Newin Chidchob dropped on the Thai Premier League (TPL) Company, the body that organises the football league in this country, last month will have considerable consequences.

Newin at first questioned TPL chairman Vichit Yamboonruang in regard to the whereabouts of money that the league got from sponsors. Without Newin's concern, the public would not have known about the beneficiary of the top-tier league's commercial benefits.

It was revealed for the first time that Siamsport Syndicate Co, the country's biggest sports media firm, was appointed by the TPL as its financial manager. Siamsport later relinquished its right to oversee the commercial benefits in the wake of allegations of irregularities in the financial management. It was also the first time the public learnt about the TPL's financial report, which showed the 18-club league had made Bt218.4 million in 2011, including Bt8.5 million in profit.

While it appears that Newin wanted to attack Siamsport, his real target was the chairman of the FAT, Worawi Makudi, who is close to Siamsport executives. The sport media has played a vital role in helping promote the league since it was founded.

Worawi appears to have struck back by giving an ultimatum to the TPL clubs to choose between him and Newin. In a press conference last week, Worawi said all clubs had been informed of the terms and conditions ahead of the season, including the benefits they would receive. Any team not content with the terms could withdraw and would be replaced by teams from the second-tier division.

Last Tuesday, Newin and his allies from 12 clubs submitted a letter to TPL, requesting disclosure of all contracts Siamsport signed with the league's sponsors and also broadcasting rights. The clubs' members urged the firm to reconstruct its management board and allow all clubs to have a more participatory role on the board.

Newin and allies also agreed to set up a group, "Thai Premier League Club Allies", for greater cooperation among 18 clubs and show their power to the FAT and TPL. The "allies" was Newin's idea, which is to reduce the TPL and FAT's power. He wants all 18 clubs to become shareholders or board committee members in the TPL like the Football Association, the governing body of football in England. He said club members should be able to participate, consider, set policies and strategy in order to develop Thai football as well as review some regulations of competitions to meet international standards with more transparency.

If he succeeds, there would be a big change in Thai football. It would mean the TPL and FAT would no longer be the sole decision-maker. All matters involving the league would instead will be decided by a board of representatives from all 18 clubs.

Some may doubt Newin's motive behind this, if he wants to replace Worawi. The banned politician from Buri Ram has repeatedly said he has no desire to return to politics or take the top post at FAT.

"I crazily devoted my time to manage a football club because I really want to develop Thai football. Everyone can see how serious I am. It's not child's play," he once said.

It remains to be seen whether Newin's motive is something good or bad for the Thai league.

But beyond all doubt, the showdown between the two men would be a prolonged affair with Thai football as their hostage.