KEIR RADNEDGE: When Hassan Al-Thawadi says he has a “passion for football” it makes a welcome change amid the whispering maelstrom of a run-up to ‘Super Thursday’ when Asian football goes to the polls.
An increasing amount of hot air, certainly in the presidential race, has been devoted to issues which have less to do with football and everything to do with political infighting and power grabs.
But then, Al-Thawadi is not standing for president of a confederation trying to find its feet after two years of frozen uncertainty in the wake of the initial scandal which brought down long-time president Mohamed Bin Hammam.
Instead Al-Thawadi, having developed a profile from leading Qatar’s dramatically successful 2022 World Cup bid, wants to take his vision for Asian football on to the FIFA executive committeee.
His election rival in Kuala Lumpur is Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa who may – or may not – have been voted in as president when the FIFA delegate ballot is staged.
Al-Thawadi sees Thursday as a “milestone” in the modern history of the history of Asian football which, he contends, has “failed to punch its weight on the international stage when you consider that Asia has 60pc of the world’s population.”
The choices undertaken by the member associations will demonstrate whether “the Asian football family can go forward as a united entity to focus on football matters or whether it will be a matter of politics overshadowing what needs to be done.”
That ‘need’ comes down, in Al-Thawadi’s opinion, to the four pillars of his manifesto:
1, Enhanced representation for the AFC within FIFA “to help Asia fulfil its potential and support football’s global growth”;
2, Educational initiatives to provide players in the region with a future in the game beyond their playing careers, to create links between educational institutions and the FAs and provide increased access to courses for administrators and officials;
3, Optimise existing development projects to ensure they are tailored to the specific needs and requirements of the member associations; and
4, Work towards creating the best environment for commercial and administrative success.
Should he be successful on Thursday, Al-Thawadi would emerge as the clearest of winners. He would have secured a four-year FIFA term of duty whereas the new AFC president will have little more than an interim 18 months before his term expires: for the new president Thursday is merely the end of the beginning of a first round of electioneering.
Not so the FIFA delegate – and that offers Al-Thawadi, should he win, a role of potential huge significance for Asian football within FIFA.
Certainly he believes his wider work in the areas of oil and gas, investment and the law have equipped him with the skill set to fulfil his ideals.
He also adheres to the logic that Asia should want its first World Cup host in two decades to be represented on the FIFA executive.
The member associations must know it makes sense.
As Al-Thawadi says: “All the other World Cup hosts have members on the FIFA executive – Brazil and Russia for example – so it makes sense from everyone’s point of view.”
Al-Thawadi’s personal presence might also defuse some of the tensions of the debate over the staging of the 2022 World Cup. As far as he is concerned, heading Qatar’s preparations, the 2022 finals are still a summer event but he is ready to discuss – and perhaps reassure – any critics who are open to serious debate.
These would surely include, though Al-Thawadi would not say, German Theo Zwanziger who criticised Qatar again last week in the German media.
One inevitable issue shadowing Al-Thawadi’s campaign has been the legacy of fellow Qatari Bin Hammam, the only man ever to have been banned for life twice by FIFA – once over bribery allegations of which he was cleared by the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the over his stewardship of AFC funds.
But for Al-Thawadi – as it should be all of Asian football if it wants to move forward – Bin Hammam is history. Al-Thawadi says: “I am my own man with my own vision for Asian football and that means looking forward, not back.”
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