No Asean League for Next Year

The  proposed Asean Super League (ASL) - touted as the region's premier football tournament - is unlikely to kick off as planned next year.

The uncertainty surrounding the leadership of football federations in Indonesia and Thailand, along with some resistance from member nations, means 2013 will be a more realistic launch date for the competition.

Mooted in 2007 as part of the Singapore Sports Hub Consortium's winning bid for the new Sports Hub in Kallang, the ASL's aim was to provide a year-round competition for the best club sides in South-east Asia. But those plans have been disrupted by recent events.

Indonesia's football governing body, the PSSI, narrowly escaped Fifa sanctions earlier this month, and is hoping to resolve its leadership crisis when it holds its congress on July 9.

In Thailand, controversial football chief Worawi Makudi is clinging on to power amidst widespread unrest. The fate of his regime will be decided when the Football Association of Thailand's presidential polls are held next week.

Until these internal issues are resolved, neither of the two regional powerhouses can rubber-stamp their support for the league.

'With all that is happening (in Indonesia), it is very unlikely the ASL will start next year,' the PSSI's acting general secretary Joko Driyono told The Straits Times yesterday. 'Only after everything is settled, can we discuss the plans in detail.'

According to a source close to the organisers, the ASL enjoys strong backing from Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei.

But Vietnam, one of the region's top football powers, is reluctant to enter a team. It is understood that officials there are worried the ASL will dilute attendances for its domestic V-League.

The league, endorsed by the Asean Football Federation, still needs final approval from Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation.

Progress has been slow, but some details appear to have been hammered out.

Between 12 and 16 of the region's top club sides are slated to take part, said the source, in a season-long tournament that will follow a home-and-away league format.

Bigger countries like Malaysia and Indonesia can enter two or three teams, while smaller nations like Singapore will have a lone representative.

Each team will be given an annual budget of about $2 million, and at least $1million has been set aside as prize money.

Participating teams are likely to be existing clubs lifted from domestic leagues, but it is possible brand-new teams may be formed. Apart from top national players, each team will be allowed to have at least four 'Asian-level' foreign players - footballers whose standard of play can compare to the best in South Korea, Japan and the Middle East.

The idea is to stoke regional rivalry and boost interest in the sport, but until South-east Asia's troubled footballing nations can get their houses in order, fans will have to wait a little longer for the league to arrive at their doorstep.

'The aim is to raise the quality of football in Asean and to develop the sport in this region,' said the source. 'There is support from most countries, but there is still a lot of work to be done before the big kick-off.'

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