THE ban on reigning Qatar Stars League (QSL) champions Al Rayyan from registering any foreign players during the next transfer window came on expected lines, but it has caused some ripples in the country’s football fraternity.
Doha Stadium Plus, in its October 5 edition, was the first to report that the Qatar Football Association (QFA) was contemplating action against Rayyan for failing to pay the players’ salary in time. And it was confirmed last week that the QFA had indeed restrained them from further recruitment until the issue is settled and the situation reviewed.
This is not the first time the QFA has taken such actions and it cannot be blamed for trying to streamline things. It is learnt that Al Arabi are also facing a similar situation.
The Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) licensing regulations stipulate that a club must prove that it has no payables overdue towards its players by the year-end preceding the season to be licensed, and if any it should be settled by March 31. Rayyan have not fulfilled this and obviously the QFA action was perfectly in line with the continental confederation’s statutes and regulations.
It may be recalled that Financial Fair Play is a much-talked-about topic in world football, more so after UEFA’s former president Michel Platini insisted on strictly implementing it in Europe. His aim was simple — to improve the overall financial health of club football. By and large, the UEFA succeeded in preventing the build-up of unsustainable debts by the clubs through various disciplinary measures such as issuing warning, reprimand, fine, deduction of points and even prohibition of registering new players. UEFA’s break-even rules require the club owners or investors to re-finance its debts or cover losses, if any.
Of course, we cannot compare the system in Asia with Europe where everything is more professional. In Asia too, there are statutes, but they are seldom implemented in its letter and spirit. Success of any system depends on the level of compliance with its regulations, without any exceptions.
But in Asia, including Qatar, there are exceptions for everything.
On the one side, the QFA needs to be complimented for taking action against Rayyan, but on the other hand it deserves some criticism for turning a blind eye to some other clubs who do not come under the purview of accountability.
Doha Stadium Plus spoke to a crosssection of people associated with football in Qatar in various capacities and asked them whether it was fair on the part of the QFA to impose sanctions on the league champions.
A majority of them felt that certain clubs in Qatar are enjoying special privileges while those trying to challenge them have to face several obstacles.
“I don’t want to criticise anybody in particular. But I feel there’s no fair play in our league, there’s no transparency. It’s not truly professional and there’s no level playing field. I do agree that clubs like Lekhwiya and El Jaish are formed with good intentions, but their entry into the top flight has changed the equilibrium of the league,” said a former official.
“These teams, to some extent Al Sadd too, now enjoy a special status. No questions are asked about them and nothing revealed about them. How much money they get, whether they make profit or are they in loss? Nobody knows,” he added.
“Lekhwiya and Jaish seem to enjoy unlimited resources, but have no followers. Rayyan and Arabi have the maximum fan-following. The former’s dream run last season added a new dimension to the league. Whenever they played there was a raucous atmosphere inside the stadium, thanks to their fans who turned up in numbers,” observed an ex-player.
“In order to compete with top teams like Lekhwiya, Jaish and Sadd, Rayyan had to build a strong team and invest heavily on players. Now they’re in debt and punished for delay in salary payments. What would they do? Should only those teams getting enormous support vie for the title? Are other teams there only to make up numbers?
“Are Rayyan guilty enough to be punished? They went out of their way to build a strong team and that made the league more competitive, isn’t it? And now instead of supporting them more, or giving them more time to sort out their problems, the QFA has imposed a ban on them. This is unfair. It’ll force the team management to spend less, resulting in weaker teams in future, and will also lead to the fans deserting them again,” he added.
Al Wakrah coach Jose Mauricio too recently said the QSL was not offering a level playing field as he felt there had been a general leniency towards a few big teams when it came to implementing rules.
“Be it naturalisation or other rules, I feel there’re different criteria for a few clubs. I don’t think it’ll help improve the standard of competition,” said Mauricio.
Unlike in Europe or other parts of the world, the situation in Qatar is quite different and unique. All clubs depend on government largesse and only those few who enjoy the ‘special privileges’ are able to raise extra money and build strong teams. Elsewhere, clubs have different sources of income, including mega sponsorship deals, share of television revenue, membership fee, gate receipts etc.
There was a clamour for the clubs to do much more towards youth development from many of those with whom Doha Stadium Plus interacted.
They felt most of the clubs are not giving enough support to Qatari youngsters as the major share of their resources is earmarked for the seniors, with the age-group boys left languishing behind.
“Look at the big clubs, there’re hardly any Qatari youngsters with them. It seems only ASPIRE Academy is interested in youth development. In search of quick results and instant glory, we’re ignoring the grassroots,” said a former administrator.
More clubs in debts in ‘game of chess’?
IT SEEMS there are more QSL clubs, other than Al Rayyan, in the red.
It is learnt that Al Arabi are also having problems with debts and non-payment of dues and may face sanctions from the QFA. It is easy to blame the clubs for not developing enough youngsters, but there is no ‘fair play’ when it comes to resource-sharing or fund-raising.
“Al Arabi also have a huge fan-following. Perhaps, after Rayyan it’s Arabi who’ve the maximum supporters. Obviously the management is under pressure to build a strong team and challenge the hegemony of the ‘more-favoured’ teams,” said an Arabi official who wished to remain anonymous.
“How can we focus on youth development and nurturing talent when we don’t have enough resources to take care of the senior team itself?” he asked.
The official said there was blatant favouritism towards a couple of big clubs.
“We’re not treated on par with others. There’s no fair play. Whether it’s direct support or raising money through sponsors there’s a huge disparity. Some clubs have highly-influential people with them and they pull the strings in their favour. Outwardly you may feel that one source is supporting everyone, but I would say it’s like just one person playing chess. He will play both the white and black pieces and in the end he’ll decide the winner,” the official said with a sense of frustration.
He also came up with an interesting analogy to reflect the attitude of officials who want instant results and not willing to invest on youngsters when he said, “Many of our people don’t have the patience to invest on youngsters and wait for sustainable long-term results. They prefer readymade players. It’s like opting for KFC and McDonald’s rather than cooking something healthier.”
Of transparency and fair play...
THE ban on recruitment imposed on Al Rayyan by the QFA and a similar action imminent on Al Arabi have opened up the topic of transparency and fair play within Qatar football. There is distrust and a deep sense of insecurity among the supporters and officials of these two popular clubs.
There is very little information available on the public domain about each club’s revenue and expenditure. As such, one cannot even point a finger at the other and conclusively argue that there is a clear discrepancy or disparity. But the lack of transparency is unfortunately strengthening the belief that there is no financial fair play within the system.
But then this is not an isolated case, confined only to Qatar. A recent Transparency International report said only 14 of FIFA’s 209 member associations publish the minimum amount of information necessary to let people know what they do or how they spend their money.
The report also said many national football associations and confederations had income from sponsors, broadcasting licences, ticket sales, international matches and other sources in addition to the funds from FIFA, but they revealed little to no information about the value of these deals and activities. In effect, too many of them are secretive about their financial transactions.
The Transparency International had set up four measures as minimum steps to being transparent — publishing audited financial accounts, an annual activity report, a code of conduct and organisational statutes. A closer scrutiny of the report affirmed that a total of 87 national federations, including Qatar, scored zero in the transparency test. The QFA is also among the national associations that have not published financial statements on their websites.
The report also mentioned that more than one in five of the 209 national federations had no website to explain their work and 178 did not even publish an annual report.
Pelusso raps club over non-payment
Al Arabi coach Gerardo Pelusso said he was disappointed with the lack of payment for him and his assistant for the last three months.
“The media reports that the club has paid us all dues aren’t true. I don’t think it’s the right way by the management to appease fans,” Pelusso, who took over this season, was quoted as saying in the Arabic media.
The Uruguayan later apologised for his remarks, with the club announcing that the two parties have sorted out the issue.