Controversy surrounds Al-Essi's uncontested re-election as YFA president

Published on 29 May 2014 in Report
Ali Abulohoom (author), Abdualaziz Omar (photographer)

Ali Abulohoom


Abdualaziz Omar

Ahmed Al-Essi, the president of the YFA for a third consecutive term, wears a scarf emblazoned with the slogan of the 20th Gulf Football Competition, the last international football event held in Yemen in December 2010.

Ahmed Al-Essi, the president of the YFA for a third consecutive term, wears a scarf emblazoned with the slogan of the 20th Gulf Football Competition, the last international football event held in Yemen in December 2010.

The General Assembly of the Yemeni Football Association (YFA) unanimously re-elected Ahmed Saleh Al-Essi as its president in a one-horse race late last month at the same time voting for board of directors, a process which takes place every four years.

Al-Essi was first elected president of the association in 2006 and has retained the position ever since. In 2010 and 2014 he was re-elected unchallenged.

Having ranked 130 in the FIFA world ranking in April 2006—when Al-Essi became the president of YFA—the national football team now ranks 180 out of 207, according to the latest FIFA world ranking.

Tawfeek Al-Shenwah the deputy chief-in-editor of the state-run publication Sport, said that the national football team began showing signs of deterioration after Al-Essi was first elected. He attributed the decline in the team's performance to eight years of YFA maladministration.

“The president of YFA is a businessman who has nothing to do with football and sports in general and all he has done during his two successive terms is to build relations with the General Assembly to retain his position rather than developing football in Yemen,” said Al-Shenwah.

Football in Yemen has been facing hard times since unrest in the country spread in the wake of the uprising of 2011, resulting in a ban on matches at major stadiums which remains in place.  

The association has made attempts to lift the ban by sending petitions to the international football federation, FIFA. Accordingly, the federation sent a delegation to Yemen to evaluate the security situation and the readiness of Yemeni stadiums to host regional matches. The committee did not approve the lifting of the ban, citing the volatile security situation and poor condition of stadiums.

The team has not been able to play against regional teams at home.

Al-Essi's electoral program included “lifting the unfair ban that was imposed on our state,” which is seen to be one of the few new aspects of his latest campaign, according to Ali Al-Gurbani, a sport commentator and a member of the board of Najm Saba team in Damar.

Al-Gurbani considered the inevitable election result to be a major blow to Yemeni football.

Eighty General Assembly members participated in the poll—14 from local teams in the first division, 20 from the second division, 22 from the third, 22 heads of YFA branches from across the country, and one person from the referee committee and another from the coaches committee.

The election was attended by the minister of youth and sport, members of the YFA including Al-Essi, and a FIFA observer who later briefed FIFA President Joseph Blatter on electoral procedures.

Through FIFA's website, Blatter expressed his satisfaction with the handling of the election and congratulated the board.

“The administration of the YFA has had the same faces since 2006. They have failed to improve the situation of Yemeni football, which has witnessed unprecedented deterioration since then as the people in charge, including Al-Essi, have their own interests a [at heart],” said Al-Gurbani

He accused the YFA leadership of self-interest and of treating the sport “like a business,” exploiting their positions for personal gain.  

Al-Gurbani said that each year the YFA receives funding from FIFA and the Ministry of Youth and Sport and the bulk of this is “eaten away by the board” and used to “provide the General Assembly with money to elect the already-made list of Al-Essi and his aides.”

However, Kamal Al-Ghail, a member of the referee committee, said that Al-Essi is the only person who is capable of tackling the tough issues facing football in the country. He added that Al-Essi has kept the local tournament going despite the unrest and economic crises that Yemen has been facing in recent years.  

“Al-Essi spends [his own] money and supports the Yemeni teams from his own pocket because he loves the game and realizes his responsibility," said Al-Ghail.

But critics charge that there is a conflict of interest at the heart of Al-Ghurbani's financial support for Yemeni teams.  Al-Ghurbani has claimed that this amounts to financial corruption.

"Al-Essi [gives money to]the teams so that they make their members... vote for him in YFA elections, not for the sake of the football."

According to Al-Shenwah, nobody bothers to run against Al-Essi because he has secured his position and his future through shrewd financial maneuvering. He says that Al-Essi has bought over individual members of the General Assembly.

Abu Bakr Al-Suhari, a member of Whdat Sana'a, said that Al-Essi has his "undisputed" position because no one is willing and able to make the sort of financial contributions Al-Essi makes.

Hasan Al-Warith, a Yemeni sport journalist who attended the election event said "if Al-Essi loves football as he has always claimed, he should quit his position in favor of someone who can improve the situation of Yemeni football as he [Al-Essi] has failed during his two previous terms."

The Yemeni national team has failed to gain a single point in its Gulf and Asian tournament since 2006.

For his part, Abdulmonem Sharhan, the vice president of the YFA, said that Al-Essi is financially well-placed to encourage Yemeni football in the midst of an economic crisis.

"The YFA receives annually only $50,000 from the Ministry of Youth and Sport as allowances for local Yemeni teams... but this amount is insufficient to sustain the teams and tournaments. Al-Essi supports the teams to keep the tournaments going, otherwise they would end," he said.

Sharhan pointed to Al-Essi's past as evidence of his managerial ability, citing his ten-years as head of Hilal Al-Hodiedah team.