04 September 2010

To ban or not to ban: FFBD has tough decision to make

The ruling body of local football, the Football Federation of Brunei Darussalam (FFBD), might just want to hold off from signing the papers that will ban import players from the DST Group Brunei Premier League (BPL) just yet.

Back in April the FFBD secretary-general, Sheikh Nordin Sheikh Mohamad, revealed the plan in an interview with The Brunei Times.

"Currently we are wondering whether import players should still be allowed in the BPL. There is no point if only one team can afford them. It's causing an imbalance within the league and we would like it to be fair for all. These are changes that could be made to improve the overall quality of the league," Sheikh Nordin had said.

However, the FFBD would be wise to revise a page from neighbouring country Malaysia's book first.

After barring foreign players from playing in the Malaysia Premier League for only a season, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) is now considering on reversing the ruling.

According to Bernama, a meeting will be held in October in which the FAM would discuss the issue, among other things.

The 2009 season was the second time that FAM had enforced the ban on import players, the first was in 1999.

The 1999 ban was a result of the Asian financial crisis and was revoked three years later.

The FAM's decision to ban imports stood on grounds that it would help increase the standard of local football.

The difference here is that import players are said to cause an imbalance to the BPL, well at least one import player.

Imports in Brunei football fall under two categories, the first are professional footballers who have international transfer certificates (ITC) and the second are foreign workers who have green identification cards.

BPL I teams like AM Gunners FC and Wijaya FC and BPL II sides like Brunei Association of Banks (BAB) and Kota Ranger have players in the latter group.

Judging from last season's results, there was no solid proof that imports gave the teams a clear advantage in their respective leagues.

While the Gunners finished third and BAB ended fourth, Wijaya FC and Kota Ranger placed at the bottom of the table.

Therefore, the proposed ban by the FFBD can be squarely traced to one man, QAF FC's striker Viban Francis Bayong.

The Cameroonian is the only professional footballer who has an international transfer certificate in the BPL.

QAF FC indeed owe the 29-year-old hitman for their stranglehold on the BPL I.

Bayong, whose biggest claim to fame was being signed by Croatian powerhouses NK Dinamo Zagreb in 2002, scored 20 of 60 of QAF FC's goals in last season's competition.

Besides claiming the BPL I Top Scorer award, his tally also aided QAF FC to secure the league title for the third consecutive season.

Yet it would seem highly unrealistic that FFBD would take a step in this direction solely because of one man's skills in front of goal, especially for a sport in which playing as a team is key.

"I am sure Brunei needs imports to let football improve. It will be more challenging and the players can all gain more," said Bayong after the news was broken to him in April.

This avid observer of local football agrees wholeheartedly because unlike other foreign leagues, the number of foreign players in the BPL is still at an acceptable level.

Even the International Federation of Association Football (Fifa) president Sepp Blatter would not bat an eyelid at the situation. A strong advocate against the influx of foreign players in a league, Blatter was the one who proposed the '6+5' rule ( at least six local players and five imports at the start of a match) back in 2008.

It was eventually abandoned in June, due to a decision of the European Commission that such a proposal would contravene European Union labour laws.

One of the objectives of this rule was to restore the national identity of football clubs, taking into account that English Premier League (EPL) teams like Arsenal and Chelsea have less than a handful of English players in the roster.

Italian Serie A winners and European champions Inter Milan also came under scrutiny following their 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final last season.

Italy's treble winners failed to field a single Italian in their starting eleven, which they did again on Aug 21 to win 3-1 against AS Roma in the Italian Supercup.

Undoubtedly the best Italian team who failed to field a single Italian came under fire due to their selection policy and Inter president Massimo Moratti responded: "If it was normal (that Inter are hated) it's justified by the fact that if I was the other team that had tried to win but hadn't managed it, of course I wouldn't like the one that had won. That's natural."

A perfectly sound reasoning, which could also be used to explain those in favour of an import ban in the BPL.

Other sports in the Sultanate are complaining about the lack of exposure to further improve their abilities.

Why then should the FFBD throw away this one opportunity for self improvement for having import players is the closest that local players will get in terms of international exposure.

The issue surrounding the Football Association of Brunei Darussalam (Bafa) and Fifa has yet to be resolved and, thus, Brunei is still under suspension and prevented from playing at the international stage.

Therefore, it would be wise for the FFBD to re-think the proposed ban, if it indeed wants the Sultanate to be a force to be reckoned with in the world of football. It is the next best thing to prepare the Sultanate for its return to the international stage.

The Brunei Times

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