30 May 2011 is the happiest day for Brunei football. Forget the drama. Forget the controversy. Forget the heart-break. All you need to know is Brunei is back on the map!
The FIFA Executive Committee, chaired by President Joseph S. Blatter, has lifted the ban on Brunei football.
Football associations of Brunei Darussalam (NFABD, formerly BAFA) will now be allowed to compete internationally.
This was decided during the football world body, FIFA during a meeting held today, 30 May 2011, at the Home of FIFA in Zurich. Brunei had been kep out of international football since September 2009 due to "government interference".
The committee took the decision after ascertaining that the Brunei football national association had fulfilled the conditions established by the FIFA Emergency Committee and approved statutes in line with the FIFA Statutes.
"As of now, yes," said a Fifa spokesperson when asked if Brunei is restored with full member privileges.
"They have fulfilled the obligations in Fifa Statutes and conditions defined in previous stages.
"Brunei is back because of the normalisation committee put in place in order to get the association back on track," a Fifa officer from the Media Department, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Brunei Times.
The normalisation committee, chaired by the president of the Brunei Darussalam National Olympic Council (BNOC) His Royal Highness Prince Hj Sufri Bolkiah, received the thanks due to it yesterday.
"I, and on behalf of the affiliates of Brunei Darussalam National Olympic Council, would like to congratulate the National Football Association of Brunei Darussalam (NFABD) for being accepted as a member of Fifa," said BNOC secretary-general Hj Zuraimi Hj Abd Sani in an e-mail yesterday.
"As a result, the suspension enforced by Fifa for the last few years has been lifted today, Monday 30th May 2011.
"Our appreciation and gratitude goes to His Royal Highness Prince Hj Sufri Bolkiah, as chairman of the normalisation committee and his team, who have worked tirelessly with Fifa in implementing the mandates set forth by the Fifa Emergency Committee.
"We wish to express our heartfelt congratulations for the job well done. Once again, congratulations to NFABD and be assured that you are most welcome to be the council's new affiliate," he added.
The e-mail should put to bed a saga which all started when the Football Association of Brunei Darussalam (Bafa) was deregistered from the Registrar of Societies in November 2008 for failing to submit its activity and financial reports as requested.
It was then suspended by Fifa for government interference during its Executive Committee meeting in September 2009, and the suspension which threatened to turn into an expulsion during last June's Congress remained in effect until yesterday.
Though not recognised internationally, the Football Federation of Brunei Darussalam managed to keep the day-to-day running of the sport in order, organising the national leagues as well as several age-group tournaments.
NFABD president Dato Paduka Hj Abdul Rahman Hj Mohiddin.
By 6 June, Fifa development officer Domeka Garamendi, signed over the keys to NFABD's new headquarters along Jalan Pusat Persidangan to the association's newly-elected president, Dato Paduka Hj Abdul Rahman Hj Mohiddin. Hj Saiful Bahri Pehin Dato Hj Jaya was elected as his deputy under the same circumstances. There were a total of 20 voters.
As is standard practice, both names were nominated before yesterday's election for the 2011-2015 term.
His Royal Highness Prince Hj Sufri Bolkiah is NFABD's honorary president
The crowd gathered at the spanking new US$1.6 million facility near the Hassanal Bolkiah National Sports Complex was in a celebratory mood and rightly so after last week's news that Fifa has lifted its suspension on Brunei.
But Primo Corvaro, the Fifa manager of member associations, was quick to remind the country that it has just taken the first step back on the long road to football glory, going on to outline several moves NFABD will be wise to look into.
"The elections were run smoothy and now the first thing NFABD has to do is appoint a secretary-general," he told The Brunei Times.
"It is important because the secretary-general is the one who runs the day-to-day business of the association.
"There also should be seven to eight working committees, where each committee will be made up of a chairman and vice-chairman who are NFABD Executive Committee members.
"Adaptations of regulations such as disciplinary and ethics codes are also key.
"Another important aspect is proper membership. Today (Monday) there were only 25 members from 17 clubs at the elections. Why these 17 clubs? Why not 10? 25?
"I have been told it is because these are the clubs that have been registered under the Registrar of Societies (RoS) but that is not a criteria.
"It should be the association (NFABD) that decides who are the members, not the other way around. In other countries the clubs join the association first, and then they register.
"This is not wise. As soon as the RoS decides who can and cannot join, that's already interference.
"Also there has to be a competition set up and internal regulations set out for the league. Regulations like what divisions will be contested? Professional? Amateur? There is a lot of work to be done."
The NFABD kept the ball rolling by appointing Mohd Noor Hj Abdullah as its general secretary on 8 June while Dato Hj Rosli Hj Mustafa was appointed treasurer. His Royal Highness Prince Hj Sufri Bolkiah was named chairman of the committee on international relations while Ali Hj Ismail and Hj Zainol Ariffin Hj Jumaat are the new chairman and deputy chairman of the competitions committee respectively.
Morni Zakaria and Ah Chua Bangau were chosen as the top men in the finance committee, Jamhari Lani and Takong Ahmad in football and Hj Hamidon Hj Mohd Zain and Mohd Isa Hj Marsidi in media.
Hj Hamidon was also chosen to be chairman of the referees committee, with Hj Omar Hj Safar his deputy.
The men are all members of NFABD's Executive Committee and had to be nominated and supported for their seats.
NFABD president Dato Paduka Hj Abdul Rahman Hj Mohiddin highlighted the integral role Mohd Noor will play.
"He will administer the day-to-day running of the association and the building. He is the chief secretariat and takes care of correspondence," he said.
"It's a full-time job. The rationale is that he keeps the job regardless of who is in the presidency.
"Football is a full-time thing if you want to be serious about it.
"The association is starting from zero so these are the committees we feel we need now.
"There is a lot of housekeeping to be done, and logistically, there is a lot that needs to be alligned.
"That is why the standing committee was formed ... To jump-start the process," he added.
And with that, the NFABD's first order of business is to put a stop to all football competitions organised by the Football Federation of Brunei Darussalam (FFBD). The country's only football association recognised by Fifa, NFABD yesterday warned that the Sultanate could be in trouble if it doesn't follow Fifa's rules.
It issued a statement pointing out that "violating 'Members' Obligatons' as per Article 13 of Fifa Statute (August 2010 edition), may lead to sanctions by Fifa".
The good news, though, is that the leagues can continue until the end of next month.
" ... the National Football Association of Brunei Darussalam (NFABD) is a full member of Fifa and strictly governed by the NFABD Statute, which is fully in compliance with Fifa Statutes," said the statement sent by NFABD president Dato Paduka Hj Abdul Rahman Hj Mohiddin.
"Therefore, all football competitions endorsed and organised by the Football Federation of Brunei Darussalam (FFBD) must be stopped and discontinued immediately, as per initial directive from Fifa and AFC representatives who were here in Brunei Darussalam recently.
"Failure to adhere to this directives, NFABD may face severe consequences for violating its obligations.
"However, in the interest of the players and of football in general, His Royal Highness Prince Hj Sufri Bolkiah, the honorary president of NFABD, has appealed to Fifa and AFC representatives to allow the DST Group Brunei Premier League 2011 to continue until the current season end, of which they agreed.
"To avoid any undesirable consequences, NFABD, guided by its Statute, respectfully requests the organiser of DST Group Brunei Premier League 2011 to end its current season not later than Wednesday, 27 July 2011.
It is hard pill to swallow.
The Football Federation of Brunei Darussalam (FFBD) yesterday announced it has decided in principle not to proceed with the remaining DST Group Brunei League and DST Group Brunei FA Cup matches, a move which has come as somewhat of a surprise to football stakeholders. And they made no bones about it.
The second half of the nine-team DST Group BPL I season has yet to start while the 10-side BPL II campaign is only five games in.
The most to lose from FFBD's decision is DST Group BPL I leaders the Royal Brunei Armed Forces Sports Council (MS ABDB).
"It's a disappointment for the players to be six points clear at the top with a superior goal difference and looking comfortable as well," said MS ABDB coach Steve Rule.
"They are not training now and have returned to their units. Maybe there's a silver lining to this in a funny kind of way because they can concentrate on their career development now.
"The team will regroup whenever the league starts again and when that happens we will just have to go out, do it all over again and rise to the challenge," added Rule, whose team are undefeated in the league and have picked up 22 points from eight games.
Second in the league are AM Gunners FC, whose manager shared Rule's sentiments.
"It's very disappointing that these two associations can't work things out," said Hj Ahmad Hj Husin.
"The league has been good and if you look at it a lot of young talent has been coming out and they are the future of Brunei football," added the manager.
The FFBD admit their hands are tied. As much as it would like to finish the local football season, logistics make it next to impossible.
The ex-governing body for the sport in Brunei has been asked by the National Football Association of Brunei Darussalam (NFABD) to put a halt to all football competitions it endorses, a ruling which hasn't gone down well with the 19 teams competing in the DST Group Brunei Premier League (BPL).
There are 48 BPL games remaining and NFABD which is internationally recognised has said Fifa has given it until July 27 to end the season or face possible sanctions.
"Logistically speaking, if we could we would continue," FFBD secretary-general Sheikh Noordin Mohammad told The Brunei Times yesterday.
"In the initial fixture we were confident we could be able to finish the league and FA Cup by the end of July.
"But because of venue problems the closure of the Balapan Track & Field at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Sports Complex and weather, not to mention the Youth Sports Festival, we had to revamp the fixtures and set the FA Cup for after Hari Raya.
"If you take into account the Youth Sports Festival (which runs from June 11-19) we can only resume the league on June 20, next Monday.
"That gives us only 37 days until July 27, and we have to take into account His Majesty's birthday and the fact that we cannot play on Thursday nights.
"We were asked to cram everything (from June 20-July 27) but that was virtually impossible.
"That's why we had no alternative but to cancel the league. We had a managers' meeting with the majority of the BPL teams last Sunday and I explained our predicament which they all understand," he added.
More shocking than the news of the league's premature end is Sheikh Noordin's revelation that contrary to public opinion, the two associations have yet to sit down and iron out an amicable solution as NFABD had earlier promised.
"In my personal view, I think we could have finished the league games," he said.
"We had thought up of several options to complete the league and I am confident that with these options we could have finished the season, but NFABD did not see fit to contact us.
"We were waiting for them to talk to us ... But there is no point talking about the options now.
"Officially or unofficially, we have had no correspondence with NFABD, and I just want to express sadness and regret that it has come to this," he added, stressing he was not speaking on behalf of FFBD.
Sadness and regret is something that the nine BPL I teams that have gone through half the season and the 10 BPL II teams which have only played five games should be all too familiar with now.
They have dozens of players who are disappointed that this season's campaign could not be finished and that they have nothing to show for all their hard work and dedication.
When asked whether the DST Group BPL I trophy would be awarded to leaders the Royal Brunei Armed Forces Sports Council (MS ABDB), who are six points ahead of AM Gunners FC, Sheikh Noordin insisted it was not up to FFBD to decide.
"We have not decided formally what to do with the trophies (DST Group BPL I, II and FA Cup). We can't commit ourselves to anything yet and we will make an announcement once we have made a decision," he said.
"We do have a contractual obligation with DST Group and we hope and trust that they they will be able to understand our predicament in the same way the clubs have.
"We have yet to have formal discussions with DST Group and I am only able to do so tomorrow (today) morning.
"That's why in our statement released earlier we only decided in principle not to proceed with the remaining DST Group Brunei League and DST Group Brunei FA Cup matches, so we have to see what the sponsors say.
"The money that the sponsors have given us to run the league is one of the issues we have to discuss with them.
"Everything we do is subject to the consent of DST Group, who have been helping Brunei football since 2003," he added.