Jason Thomas and Amir Amin
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
IN 1976, South Africa was the pariah of international sports because of its apartheid policies.
One of the final rubber stamps of disapproval coming from world football governing body, the International Federation of Association Football (Fifa) that year, when they became the first country to be expelled from the association.
But changes were made, and come this June, the once-outcasts of global football will be hosting one of the biggest sporting events on the planet, 2010 Fifa World Cup.
Also come this June, Brunei may be the second country to face the same risk of becoming lost in the football wilderness that befell South Africa 34 years ago, though the circumstances surrounding the Sultanate's possible banishment are far less serious.
In what might be the final twist of the knife in a drama which first began two years ago, Fifa on Friday announced that Brunei may be the first expulsion from the body since South Africa for 'political interference.'
Fifa warned that unless the Football Association of Brunei Darussalam (Bafa) came to Fifa's Congress on June 9 and 10 in the southern most African nation without meeting its conditions for reinstatement, it would be expelled.
The only governing body for football in the country recognised by Fifa, Bafa was deregistered from the Registrar of Societies (RoS) on 15 Nov 2008 for failing to submit its activity and financial reports.
Bafa provided RoS the relevant documents to get reinstated on Dec 22, but the appeal was rejected.
It has been downhill ever since, with Fifa suspending Bafa on Sept 30 last year.
The Sultanate's involvement in the international arena came to a grinding halt, culminating in Brunei's only professional club, DPMM FC, being banned from playing in the Singapore League days later.
Fifa have repeatedly stressed that the only way Brunei can play international football is if Bafa is re-reinstated, with Fifa's Director of member associations Thierry Regenass making at least three trips to the country to resolve the matter last year.
Top on the list of his priorities was appointing an interim committee until Bafa got reinstated, but nothing came of it, even after meeting officials from the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports.
"Brunei have not agreed to the road map Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation have proposed to them in order to reinstall the federation and to come back as a member of Fifa," said Fifa president Sepp Blatter when he announced the threat of Bafa's expulsion on Friday.
Calls to both FIFA's Director of member associations Thierry Regenass and AFC General Secretary Alex Soosay were not answered by press time.
With football so ingrained in Bruneian culture, it is no surprise that some football fans are disillusioned with the events that transpired up until now.
"Brunei just needs to grow up," said Amin Samid yesterday.
"I don't really know what the deal is between Fifa, FFBD (new ruling body Football Federation of Brunei Darussalam) and Bafa, but I do know that Brunei needs a change in attitude when it comes to sports," he added.
"They should just follow what Fifa wants as they are the world governing body of football," insisted Irwan Mohammad.
"I don't know why they don't want to comply with Fifa. Maybe I'm not the only one that doesn't as there are also others who don't exactly know what happened.
"Why aren't the relevant authorities doing something about it?," asked the teacher.
As it is, Brunei is not allowed to compete in any international games and is not eligible for funding from Fifa to run football in the country and to develop the sport.
In addition, Brunei will not be able host any Fifa courses and will not be able to attend any conferences, making it hard for the country to keep abreast of development in the international arena.
Also, any player, coach or agent who wants a relationship with the rest of the global football community will not come to Brunei because they risk being alienated by their home countries or associations.
"My honest answer? I think it is a total embarrassment, not only for the football fraternity in Brunei but the whole sports fraternity in Brunei," said a Malaysian football fanatic.
"This is all a lacklustre display by the officials mandated to carry out their responsibly, and who unfortunately, didn't carry them out. "A series of human technical errors has resulted in the disruption of football in Brunei," he said in conclusion.
His view was shared by a manager of a local football club, who was aware why Fifa won't budge unless its demands are met.
"The people here have to understand why Fifa won't compromise," he said.
"We are dealing with an association that has more members than the United Nations. They cannot make an exception for Brunei.
"Every Tom, Dick and Harry will start forming their own associations or federations, and how can Fifa run like that?
"International organisations like these will not back down to any political pressure. They can't afford to, if not they cannot function," he added.
In the end, Qamaruzzaman Hj Affandy said it the best.
"The ban will be detrimental to the future of Brunei's football. How can we grow without exposure?" said the student.
The Brunei Times