INVESTIGATION / Football’s “dictatorship”, the centralization of the Albanian Football Association vote “cement” the positions of Armand Duka! How the rules of the game changed! Documents!

INVESTIGATION / Football’s “dictatorship”, the centralization
Twenty years at the helm of Albanian football, five terms won and running for the sixth to maintain his "reign" in the Albanian Football Association (FSHF), Armand Duka has changed the system, thus centralizing the voting process. 20 clubs lost the right to vote in decision-making and their votes were transferred to the Regional Football Associations, entities that fall directly under the authority of the Albanian Football Association.
Consequently, Armand Duka is paving the way to victory for the sixth time in the Electoral Assembly of FSHF, which will be held between February and March 2022.

On December 18, 2020, in the Extraordinary General Assembly, held online due to the pandemic, FSHF changed its statute by 56 votes in favour and one abstention. Arbitrarily and vaguely, the amateur teams accepted and voted the proposal of the FSHF, that they would no longer have the right to vote in the next Assemblies. The principle "One person, one vote" was abolished. Out of 54 clubs that voted in previous years, now only 26 teams have that right.

Following this change, the votes of many clubs were delegated to the regional associations, which fall under the authority of FSHF, a "trick" that is cementing the dominant positions of Armand Duka at the head of the Albanian Football Association.
The change of 2019’s statute was substantial. Prior to this time, regional clubs and associations had been included as full-rights members. Under the new rules, membership in the FSHF was classified into "direct" and "indirect".
After the clause in the 1st paragraph of article 13, which defined the membership in the Albanian Football Association, point 3 of the aforementioned article prepared the ground for excluding small teams from decision-making.

In light of this statute the direct members are Superior League Clubs, First Division Clubs, Regional Associations and associations of football-related professions; which means that in Albania only 26 clubs operate according to the principle of "direct members" and, following the statute can apply the “One person, one vote” principle. All the other members, 12 teams from the Second Division and 6 to 8 teams from the Third Division lost the right to vote, being considered "indirect members".
Paradoxically, their votes were transferred to the Regional Football Associations, which in 2019 had eight votes.

It all happened based on Article 28, paragraph 2 (b), another act to "buy" the free vote, given that regional associations have been established and operate thanks to direct funding provided by FSHF.

This article specifies that: "the number of delegates, who will represent amateur football in the Assembly, will be equal to the number of delegates of professional football".

Given that the Superior League has ten teams and the First Division 16, consisting of a total of 26 delegates, the Regional Associations also increased their votes from 8 to 26.

That was the final blow. The 12 Second Division and 6 Third Division teams (third and fourth levels of football in the country) blindly accepted the governing body's proposal and relinquished their decision-making rights. Their votes, considered potentially endangered by politics or rivals of the current management, were put in the “safe deposit” of regional associations.

Specifically, Flamurtari FC, although being one of the most glorious Albanian clubs in history, will not have the right to vote in the next Assembly, due to the fact that they have been relegated to the second division.

Although being unable to stop the changes, football stakeholders accuse that the heads of sports clubs in Albania do not have the minimum qualification to understand what is happening. This makes it easy for the governing body to use them for their own advantage.

"Quality as a direct or indirect member is below par. The average education in Albania, myself included, corresponds to the basic level of education. Not everyone reads what is presented to them or not everyone understands what is written. In light of these changes, I doubt that anyone has read and comprehended them in advance”, – declared for INA-Media the administrator of Flamurtari FC, Sinan Idrizi.

Or, in the most blatant case, they exist only to serve the system. "The biggest problem is that these men, who have the right to vote, the representatives of these associations are not free and independent. They do not have a strong conscience or believe that they are voting for the best option. "These men are willing to vote for the status quo," said former national team captain Rudi Vata.

Control of the vote

What was disguised as an arrangement of regions for the good of football, was in reality the control of the vote.

In the Electoral Assembly of February 7, 2018, where Armand Duka won his fifth term against the former MP, Bashkim Fino, FSHF appointed 66 delegates with the right to vote. 54 of them were football clubs and 12 sports associations: eight delegates from regional associations and one delegate from the referees association, the coaches association, the sports physicians association and the minifootball.

At the last Assembly of FSHF, on June 14, 2021, just six months after the allocation of votes was changed, 55 delegates were appointed, of whom 52 participated. According to the new arrangement, out of 54 teams, 28 of them lost the right to vote. Only 10 Superior League teams and 16 First Division teams were directly represented, for a total of 26 delegates. In addition to the 26 delegates of the Regional Associations, which represented the amateur teams, the Associations of Coaches, the Association of Sports Physicians and the Association of Referees participated by having one vote each.

Up till now, all clubs were represented in the Assembly by the delegates elected by them under the principle “One person, one vote”.

54 football clubs
8 Regional Football Associations
1 Association of Coaches
1 Association of Sports Physicians
1 Association of Referees
1 Minifootball

The statute came into force, according to which professional clubs (Superior League and First Division) have equal representation with the Regional Football Associations.

26 professional clubs
26 Regional Associations
* Regional Association of Shkodra 3
* Regional Association of Lezha 2
* Regional Association of Tirana 8
* Regional Association of Durrës 3
* Regional Association of Elbasan 2
* Regional Association of Fier 3
* Regional Association of Gjirokastra 3
* Regional Association of Korça 2
1 Association of Coaches
1 Association of Sports Physicians
1 Association of Referees

The change of the electoral policy from the 2018 Electoral Assembly to the last one is evident. Through the official documentation of the associations registration in the Judicial District Court of Tirana, it is obvious that the vote influenced by the "small clubs" policy has been altered into a vote influenced by the Albanian Football Association itself.

The documents prove that some coaches of the National Under-21 teams or women's teams are, indeed, hired and paid by FSHF as part of their employee structure.

The same happens with other officials too, who are employed or have close ties to the Albanian Football Association.

Suspicious change of the rules of the game
At a time when almost half of the votes in the elections have transferred to the Regional Football Associations, it is precisely this conflict of interest that makes the scheme completely doubtful on how the head of FSHF will be elected this time.
Football connoisseurs consider the new scheme invalid, as long as it takes away the clubs right to vote and gives it to the associations.

It is a right thing for the associations to be part of the ballot, but none of the clubs can be excluded from exercising this right. You cannot deprive the clubs of this right in order to grant it to the associations. Before the 90s, Memaliaj and Himara had outstanding teams. Today, Himara’s football club no longer exists”, – said a well-informed source for Investigative Network Albania, who preferred to remain anonymous.

“The voting system should have been done a long time ago, but it was not realized, because those who ran the football in these 20 years depended on politics and then on clubs,” the same source continued.

The president of FSHF, Armand Duka, supports Armando Cungu, the head of a regional association and at the same time the coach of the U-19 National Team of Albania.
“The gentlemen of the Football Association have chosen an unjust voting system, to adapt it to the miserable Albanian system”, – stressed Rudi Vata, who ran for president of FSHF in 2010.

“The Albanian football of the last 20 years has only created suffering, misery, match-fixing, nepotism and bribery. No joy, no "fair play", so the main actors are these mini-dictators, who have turned themselves into dictators. Their misfortune is they do not understand that they are like that”, – Rudi Vata further criticizes the way the Albanian Football Association has been managed.

Specifically in the Regional Association of Shkodra, the chairman was the coach of the women's representative team, Armir Grima, who has now been succeeded by the coach of the U-19 National Team of Albania, Armando Cungu. The latter is part of the employee structure of FSHF and receives a salary from this entity.

The head of the Regional Association of Tirana is Sulejman Mema, a well-known person in football who also holds official functions in the Albanian Football Association. In addition, in March 2019, after the discharge of Christian Panucci as coach of the National Team, Mema and Ervin Bulku served as interim coaches of the national team in the match against Andorra.

The chairman of the Regional Association of Durrës is Mikel Furxhi, who, in the Assembly of June 14, 2020, was part of the Commission for the Verification of Delegates.
In the Regional Association of Korça the chairman is Ilirjan Përmeti, also serving as the sporting director of Skënderbeu FC, a team which, despite UEFA's decision to exclude them from international tournaments for ten years, yet did not receive any penalties in Albania.

The fact that regional football associations receive direct funding from FSHF while being given the right to vote has been considered by experts a serious conflict of interest and, that’s why the elections should have been cancelled.

“Regional Football Associations in European countries have no financial connection with the national associations. So no one receives a salary from the football association. These are serious conflicts of interest. In every European country, the elections would have been cancelled. The State Secretariat for Sports would have taken disciplinary measures in these circumstances”, – affirmed the well-informed source of INA MEDIA, who preferred to remain anonymous.
Having almost half of the votes in the hands of the associations, the power has been concentrated.

“Certainly there is a concentration of power in the Albanian Football Association. It looks as clear as the sunlight. But the Albanian state accepts everything,” – accused Rudi Vata.
Another example is the Association of Sports Physicians, which has one vote in the Assembly. Due to active engagements in the world of sport, even in this case, every detail is shared anonymously.

“Since communism, the Association of Physicians has been like a facade, to say the least. There is no decision-making, neither in the Albanian Football Association nor in the Olympic Committee, there is simply one vote. The association has not met for two years, it has not functioned. The chairman, Profit Canaj, has suffered from health issues. He was ill in the last Assembly of FSHF and delegated the vote to one of the members of the medical staff of the National Team, who was not a doctor by profession. "It was a big mistake because only physicians have the right to vote.”, – the sources explain to INA MEDIA.

Motives for the Association manoeuvre
The Association's action to change the statute is related to the 2018 election race, in which against the current president, Armand Duka, ran the MP Bashkim Fino, an election in which Duka felt the threat of a “political vote”.
With the vast majority of Albanian clubs owned by municipalities, more than 1/3 of those who voted were mayors and supported the candidate who was part of their political force.

To win a fifth term in the Albanian Football Association, the current president, Armand Duka, needed a second round of voting, as he did not immediately secure 2/3 of the votes of the 66 delegates present.

In the second round, the winner was announced by a simple majority, i.e. 50% + 1 rule, so the new FSHF president needed 33 votes. Duka received 38 votes, Fino 24, three were declared invalid, and one member did not vote.

The election against the former MP Bashkim Fino was the most insecure race for Duka since 2002. Only when he took over the FSHF two decades ago did the current president need a run-off in the second round to defeat his rival, Mehdi Bushati. In other Assemblies, the vote has been overwhelmingly in his favour. With the changes in the voting system and based on the data of previous races, the math is simple. To win 2/3 of the votes from 55 delegates in 2022, Armand Duka needs only 37 votes. This would be the lowest number of votes ever received by him, but the schemes in the statute would be enough for the sixth term.

After the last elections, the votes of small teams, considered a threat and/or directly dependent on politics, were allocated to the Regional Football Associations. The latter were created with the argument to serve football, from massification to the identification of talents.

In fact, as structures being under the authority of the Association their camouflaged purpose confirms to be fully related to the voting process.

“The right to vote is the right to vote, but they are working, for example, so that the vote of a shepherd like us, the clubs, is not equal to that of an intellectual, such as those of the Albanian Football Association”, – said Sinan Idrizi ironically.

For the manager of Flamurtari FC, there is a significant disproportion in the way the new division of regions has been composed.

“The problem is how this division was made. In the Regional Association of Fier there are 25 teams for three delegates with the right to vote, while in Gjirokastra there are eight teams for two delegates. In the electoral system in Albania, different schemes are served according to the interests. The problem is that we do not know the unit of measurement used for this new division", – says Sinani, the manager of Flamurtari FC.
“Just knowing that FSHF has classified the capital of football, Vlora, in the region of Fier! Following this logic, the south of Albania should look for other alternatives in football”, – he further accuses.

However, the debate over the creation of an autocratic system in Albanian football is neither new nor secret.

“If you look at the case of the current president of the FSHF, he is a choice of politics.”Coming from the business of breeding birds, without having any contribution, merit, connection, emotion and without spending a single day in sports, and then on a beautiful day he becomes the president of the Albanian Football Association”, – accuses the former captain of the National Team, Rudi Vata.

The issue of reigning by a handful of people in football is not just an Albanian story. A few years ago, world football got involved in one of the biggest scandals in history.
Sepp Blatter was named in 2015 as “the most successful non-homicidal dictator in recent years.” He led world football for 17 years and 122 days (from June 8, 1998, to October 8, 2015), plunging FIFA into a series of scandals and corruption at the highest levels. (The prestigious British “The Guardian”).
UEFA's Term Limits suggestion

For months, the new statute of the Football Association remained pending. However, in the end, according to legal provisions, the Ministry of Education and Sports decided to approve the amendments.

“For MAS, the legality of each Association is of special importance, and the FSHF is no exception. For this reason, the minister approved the amended statute of FSHF last year.
“Regarding your questions on the elections or the participants in them, the position of the MAS remains unaltered, as this is an internal matter of FSHF, which should be regulated according to its statute and the ministry is not involved in the independence of the organization of the associations.” – was the response of the Ministry of Education and Sports after a request for information from INA MEDIA.

The Tirana Judicial District Court has also approved the amendments to the statute. According to the official documents, as a response to the Investigative Network Albania, it is understood that the Association's request was submitted seven months after the Assembly, more precisely on 07/28/2021, including “Approving the new Statute of the Albanian Football Association, attached the Annexes: A “Integrity Check Questionnaire” and B “Procedure Rules of the General Assembly”. Legally, only the status of the Regional Football Association Lezha remains problematic, as, on October 4, 2021, the Court of the Judicial District in Tirana rejected the request for its registration.
This scheme of "reign" of a single person is criticized by UEFA, which suggested all European Associations include in the statutory changes the term limits.
UEFA and FIFA set the first example by approving two-term restrictions, plus a third term as a maximum one in the top ranks.

The primary objective was to correct the mistakes of the past and to avoid the creation of other dictatorial systems.
In Albania, this suggestion was not included in the new statute, amended in December 2020.

Quite different happened in Poland. After eight very successful years, President Zbigniew Boniek quit, following the government's decision that the heads of the associations should not stay in office for more than eight years. The former famous footballer of Juventus and Rome already is the Vice-President of UEFA.

Another big football name, like Davor Šuker, quit after nine years from the leadership of the Croatian Football Association. In Northern Macedonia, Albania’s neighbouring country, the presidents of the Association have changed at least three times in the last 20 years. Currently, the president is an Albanian, Muamed Sejdini, described as one of the most successful leaders in the history of this institution.
Foreign models of organization

Unlike the case of football in Albania, where amateurs were expelled, and their votes were regrouped in a very dubious way, in the systems of more developed countries, in general, the structure of football is based on a wide range of amateurs.

In the Italian model of the Electoral Assembly for the president of the Italian Football Association, all Serie A, B and C teams participate with the right to vote. Amateur League (Serie D and youth football), athletes, coaches and referees take part in the voting through delegates appointed by the electoral regulation. The 276 Italian football delegates have a total of 516 votes. For this reason, the vote of each delegate varies in relation to the category to which it belongs. The vote expressed by each representative of Serie A clubs is multiplied by 3.1. However, the National Amateur League has the largest share of electoral votes as a whole (176 such).

In the Spanish model, 140 delegates vote in the Electoral Assembly. 20 of them are senior football officials. The peculiarity is related to the fact that even the president of the Spanish Football Association has the right to vote, as well as the 19 presidents of the territorial associations.

The professionals are represented by 20 teams and 13 players. Non-professional football is represented by 29 teams and 17 players. The right to vote from all levels is also granted to 16 coaches, 11 referees, 12 football teams, as well as a vote from the Secretary-General of the Spanish Football Association, Andreu Camps. The winner from the vote of 140 delegates is announced by a simple majority. Two completely different examples come from the Albanian experience, where the real teams and actors of the game, not only aren’t excluded from the electoral process but, on the other hand, those who are considered the weakest, have the largest number of votes and consequently of decision-making.