CHRISTIAN RADNEDGE in DUBAI: Yousuf Al Serkal threw down a dramatic challenge here today not only to rival candidates for the AFC presidency but to world federation FIFA.
The United Arab Emirates federation leader included among his manifesto promises a pledge to “publicly declare all allowances and benefits given to me by the Confederation, and expenditure incurred by my office.”
This was significant on two fronts: Firstly, one of the most contentious issues with the Asian Football Confederation had been the confusion of use of funds by the last president Mohamed Bin Hammam; secondly, FIFA’s senior officials continue to block reform process pressure to follow the example of all major international corporations and publish transparent facts and figures about the remuneration of senior directors and officials.
Launching his election manifesto at the Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, Al Serkal included six pledges to “transform” the scandal-hit confederation.
Those pledges are to reunite Asian football, improve governance, ensure a balance between professional and amateur football, decentralise AFC activities, balance revenue distribution, embrace the diversity of Asia at AFC House.
“I’m confident I will get enough votes to win the race,” Al Serkal said. “I will not give out numbers now but I am very confident I will win.”
“In the campaigning for such a post we do receive a lot of confirmation from a lot of federations and I have received enough confirmations to make me feel comfortable.”
Al Serkal is one of four candidates for the Asian confederation presidency at an extraordinary congress in Kuala Lumpur on May 2. The AFC then hopes to move on after all the paranoia, confusion and scandal of a near-decade under the control of Bin Hammam.
The Qatari businessman, suspended from football in the spring of 2011, was finally banned for life last December, clearing the way for elections.
Al Serkal did confirm that while he was and still is close to Bin Hammam, he distanced himself from his former colleague when it comes to his professionalism.
“During the time of [Mohamed] Bin Hammam who was not close to the president of AFC at that time? All of us were close supporting him to work positively in the favour of the AFC and that was supposed to be our attitude toward any president.
“What makes me and him closer is we come from the same region, we come from neighbouring countries – we’ve known each other for a long time and yes I am a close friend of Bin Hammam but that friendship had nothing to do with the work we used to do.
“I always had different ideas and opinions and conflict in the meetings with him and once I had different opinions I would always raise it and it did not please Bin Hammam for me to raise it – but that’s who I am. I keep friendship separate from work.”
The other three candidates are Worawi Makudi (Thailand), Hafez Ibrahim Al Medlej (Saudi Arabia), Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa (Bahrain) and Yousuf Al Serkal (UAE), for a tenure of two years, until 2015.
Acting president Zhang Jilong, from China, decided not to stand, leaving Makudi alone among nominations from the eastern region and a three-way squabble from the west. Makudi is already a member of FIFA’s executive conmmittee though another AFC FIFA delegate, Manilal Fernando of Sri Lanka, was recently suspended from football for three months by the world federation pending further investigations.
The contest is perceived to be a tight one, as Makudi reportedly has the backing of 12 nations in the eastern region and the western region divided on who to throw their full weight behind.
A recent meeting held by West Asian Football Confederation president Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan tried, and failed, to decide on a single candidate.
Al Serkal himself reacted strongly to the recent news that his rival Sheikh Salman will be supported by the Olympic Council of Asia.
“In AFC we have been working for such a long time independently without any interference,” he said. “Unfortunately this time there is an interference from the OCA which is unfortunate. They are trying hard to influence the voting but I believe the football family would like always to be independent from this.
“I don’t think they will have a great influence; that is not to an extent that they will influence the voting from one candidate to another.”
The slogan for the campaign is Football at Heart – because the heart harbours the emotion derived from the game, explained Al Serkal.
He formalised his campaign pledges as:
· Reunite Asian Football
· Improve governance
· Ensure a balance between professional and amateur football
· Decentralise AFC activities
· Balance revenue distribution
· Embrace the diversity of Asia at AFC House
He aded: “If I am successful, I will lead the way to make the AFC much more transparent with improved governance in order that we regain the integrity of the game in Asia.
“It is important that I lead by example, and so I will publicly declare all allowances and benefits given to me by the Confederation, and expenditure incurred by my office. I will also introduce a ‘whistle blower’ programme to allow players and officials to report in absolute confidence any irregularities – whether in match fixing or any issue relating to football.
“I firmly believe that we are at our strongest when all 47 members stand as one. So I will appeal to the more economically and technically mature associations to work in solidarity, to ensure greater benefits to the majority of associations.
“I also believe that many development programmes currently managed by the AFC from Kuala Lumpur can be driven forward by the regional federations, whilst still following the main principles set by the AFC. This approach will deliver efficiencies and speed up football development.
“It is also critical that we bridge the gap between professional and amateur football across Asia. So with a focus on elevating standards in our flagship competitions, it is important that more Member Associations participate in the AFC Asian Cup and AFC Champions League.
“We can do this through more hands on, local development programmes for leagues, clubs, youth and women’s football, and this is something to which I am absolutely committed.”
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