Football: Fifa suspension looms as Thais fight reforms

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thailand face a Fifa-imposed suspension on Monday after a lowly fourth-tier club refused to give in to pressure from the world governing body to drop a court order halting controversial reforms that has left the game in crisis.

Thai Football Association (FAT) leader and Fifa executive committee member Worawi Makudi has also, so far unsuccessfully, pressured Pattaya FC to drop the court injunction which led to him postponing last Sunday's FAT presidential elections indefinitely.

The argument centres on one of the Fifa- and Worawi-backed reforms that would see the slashing of the number of eligible voters from around 180 to just 72.

Worawi wanted to push through the new reforms in line with Fifa statues in a vote on June 15 before holding the presidential election a day later, just before his latest term ended.

But Pattaya secured an order from Bangkok's Min Buri court on June 14 that prevented the Thai FA meeting to vote on the matter before the court reaches a verdict on the club's claim, local media reported. Critics say shrinking the vote is a ploy by Worawi to retain his seat amid growing unpopularity. The controversial 61-year-old says the new reforms are a Fifa prerequisite.

Fifa said it could impose a suspension on Thailand should Pattaya not drop the claim by Monday, which Worawi said would jeopardise lucrative tours by Barcelona, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea to the kingdom in the coming weeks.

The Thai Sports Authority is also watching the case with Thai sports law dictating that an election must be held within 30 days of the incumbent's term expiring.

Annop Singtothong, vice-president of Thai Premier League club Chon Buri FC and a rival of Worawi, said this week he would canvas members of the FAT to force the election to happen within the 30-day period and queried the timing of the reforms.

"All members are willing to comply with Fifa's regulations," he told English-language daily The Nation.

"In fact, we had no objection with the new statute. But, we just would like to ask why there is an attempt to amend the rules on the final day of the incumbent's mandate."

Pattaya had also brought a suit against Worawi but dropped that earlier last week as it deemed he could no longer legitimately run the association following the end of this third two-year term on Sunday, the Nation reported on Wednesday.

The paper also said the club had received death threats.

Fifa was adamant that Pattaya were wrong to involve the courts in soccer governance.

"By pursuing their action before an ordinary court of law, the club's behaviour prevents FAT from managing its affairs independently and undermines the competent decision-making bodies of FAT, which is clearly contrary to the above obligations," Fifa said in a letter to FAT secretary-general Ong-arj Kosinkar on Monday.

Worawi has long been plagued with allegations of corruption during his tenure with Fifa and the FAT but has successfully defended himself each time to remain in his powerful positions.

However, he failed in his bid to become Asian Football Confederation president in May when he was comprehensively beaten by Sheikh Salman Ibrahim Al Khalifa.

His popularity in Thailand has also suffered. He was criticised after a chaotic hosting of the Fifa Futsal World Cup last year which saw the main venue go unused after construction delays.