KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Asian football goes to the polls in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow fighting all of yesterday’s battles at a time when the confederation needs to be looking forward after desperate years of dislocation.
Asia’s World Cup status offers a perfect illustration of how the continent which boasts 60pc of the planet’s population has been let down by its football hierarchy. While Asia commands four definitive slots at the finals, Africa holds a comparatively undeserved five.
Too much infighting has distracted the AFC from looking outward and upward; it will be intriguing to see which of four presidential contenders wins a majority of the 47 votes on offer at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on being judged the man to put it all right.
Not that Thailand’s Worawi Makudi or Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman or UAE’s Yousuf Al Serkal will have much time either to do that or resolve the commercial and competition complexities hovering in the background, to say nothing of the scourge of matchfixing.
A fourth candidate, Saudi Arabia’s Hafez Al-Medlej, withdrew less than 24 hours before voting.
As soon as the winner has accepted the plaudits he will gear himself up for another election since tomorrow’s new president – elected ‘only’ to complete the four-year term of Mohamed Bin Hammam – will be up for election all over again in 18 months’ time.
Bin Hammam was expelled from world football originally in 2011 over bribery allegations concerning his bid to overthrow Sepp Blatter as FIFA president. He had that ban overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport but was then suspended for life again for misuse of AFC funds.
The shadow of the initial scandal returned to haunt the AFC yesterday when Sri Lanka’s Vernon Manilal Fernando was kicked off the FIFA exco after being banned for eight year for, it is assumed, complicity with Bin Hammam.
This may have caused Makudi a sleepless night since the already controversial Thai was also close to Bin Hammam and Manilal during events back in the spring of 2011.
At least Manilal’s disgrace could help the AFC resolve one scuffle. A single FIFA delegate’s slot is up for competition tomorrow. Contestants are Qatar’s Hassan Al-Thawadi and Salman.
Since the AFC must, suddenly, find an extra delegate to FIFA Congress next month some emergency procedure may be possible to keep both men victoriously happy.
Salman will also wish to end the day as president of the AFC though this battle has been hedged about with intrigue.
Makudi made an early grab for momentum by claiming the support of all the ASEAN dozen though it is understood some have been edging away;
Salman has the overt support of the power-wielding Sheikh Ahmad Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait, powerful chairman of the Olympic Committee of Asia, but all the negative baggage associated with Bahrain’s dismal human rights record; and
Al Serkal has been assailed by accusations from the Kuwait FA – acting as a front for Al-Sabah and Sheikh Salman – that old friend Bin Hammam has secretly been pulling strings on his behalf.
Already waiting in the wings, with a view on the 2015 election, are Kohzo Tashima from Japan and Sheikh Tilal Al Fahad, chairman of the issue-stirring Kuwait FA and brother of Sheikh Fahad.
Hence, the overall picture is not a pretty sight – certainly not one which bodes well for the winner’s prospects of pulling everything happily back together before the next election campaign begins.
T H E C A N D I D A T E S
Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa (Bahrain)
President of the Bahrain FA
** Almost defeated then-AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam in a 2009 election for a seat on the FIFA executive Committee and hence a long-time, experienced campaigner. Troubled by the human rights issue, as a member of a ruling royal family that suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011 and arrested national team players for their participation. His slogan is Asia United.
Yousuf Al Serkal (United Arab Emirates)
President of the UAE FA and AFC vice-president
** Has worked all across the AFC in different departments and commitments which has garnered support beyond his own region of West Asia. Election prospect only underlined by the virulence of a whispering campaign pointing up his old friendship with Mohamed Bin Hamman. Campaign slogan: Football at Heart.
Dato’ Worawi Makudi (Thailand)
President of Thailand FA, member of FIFA executive committee
** The only candidate from outside West Asia after the withdrawal of AFC acting president Zhang Jilong and has been kept busy resisting a string of corruption accusations. Also shadowed by links with latest disgraced (now ex) FIFA exco member Manilal Fernando.