KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- A battle over Asia’s FIFA vice-presidency has burst out into the open with an open letter – in effect, a polite declaration of war – to the region’s federations from Prince Ali of Jordan.
The political wrangle focuses on Asian Football Confederation statutes which separate the position of FIFA vice-president from the AFC leadership.
Prince Ali was elected as Asia’s FIFA vice-president in 2011, a position he maintained when Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa from Bahrain was voted in as new AFC president last year.
Since then Sheikh Salman has fought doggedly to convert the FIFA vice-presidency into an automatic right for the AFC president.
AFC Congress rejected such a proposal overwhelmingly last year. Then, last month, Sheikh Salman was reportedly furious when his attempt to raise suppport from FIFA’s executive committee was dismissed in peremptory fashion.
FIFA’s directors insisted that Asia’s representation was a matter only for the AFC.
Asian football feels under-represented on the FIFA exco in any case with the one vice-president and three ‘ordinary’ members, chosen on a regional basis. The trio are Sheikh Salman, controversial and long-serving Worawi Makudi of Thailand plus Zhang Jilong of China.
Additionally co-opted on to the FIFA exco as a representative of women’s football is Asia’s Australian lawyer Moya Dodd.
Zhang, interim AFC president after the scandal-hit exit of Qatar’s Mohamed Bin Hammam, was co-opted back into the FIFA exco by the AFC last year after Sri Lanka’s Vernon Manilal Fernando incurred a life ban from the world federation’ ethics committee.
Japan’s Kohzo Tashima has already declared an interest in running next year for this AFC slot on the FIFA exco.
However, the main confrontation within the AFC hierarchy is the issue of the FIFA vice-presidency.
Sheikh Salman has been gathering support for a change in statutes which, if carried by AFC Congress in Sao Paulo in June, would threaten Prince Ali’s exit as FIFA vice-president after only one four-year term.
Prince Ali has set out his opposition to Sheikh Salman’s manoeuvres in his letter to the AFC member associations.
He said he was “truly surprised” that a proposal kicked out by AFC Congress last year had been revived so “vigorousy” by Sheikh Salman.
‘Time and energy’
Prince Ali added: “It is unfortunate that the direction taken by the AFC president and other AFC officials is one driven purely by politics instead of focusing our energies and valuable time to improving the game in Asia.”
The letter left no doubt about the confrontation now under way.
Prince Ali said: “It is regrettable that the AFC president has spent so much time and energy over the past few days . . . lobbying heavily for this proposal instead of working hand in hand for the development of football in Asia.”
He set out his own efforts on behalf of the AFC and Asian football in general over the last three years and explained why he believed the AFC presidency and FIFA vice-presidency should not be unified.
Prince Ali said: “I believe there is wisdom in maintaining the two positions separate. It allows the FIFA vice-president to focus on Asian football issues in FIFA while the AFC president focuses on addressing football challenges in Asia and strengthening football development which is a very big task.”
The FIFA exco headed by president Sepp Blatter includes 24 members plus two co-opted women members. The eight vice-presidencies are split three from Europe plus one each from Africa, Asia, Central and North America, Oceania and South America.
Prince Ali’s letter
Open Letter to the Asian Football Community
I would like to share my thoughts with the football community in Asia and beyond about the latest developments at the Asian Football Confederation regarding the position of FIFA Vice President.
There are intensive efforts underway to merge the AFC presidency with the position of FIFA Vice President in 2015, essentially canceling the position I hold today in Asian and global football. A position my predecessor has held for more than 15 years. A position I have been democratically elected to in January 2011.
The proposal to merge the FIFA Vice President position with the AFC presidency has been presented today by the following member associations: Afghanistan Football Federation, DPR Korea Football Association, Football Association of Indonesia, Bahrain Football Association, Qatar Football Association, Pakistan Football Federation, Football Federation of Sri Lanka And Yemen Football Association.
This proposal will be discussed and decided on at the AFC Congress in Brazil. While I respect these member associations, I stand strongly opposed to their position for the following reasons, which I have shared with my dear colleagues on both the FIFA and AFC Executive Committees respectively.
First, let us remember that this proposal was introduced to the AFC Congress in May 2013 at the request of the All Nepal Football Association, Pakistan Football Association and Sri Lanka Football Association.
The AFC Congress, which comprises all Asian member associations, has rejected this proposal by an overwhelming majority (98% of the Congress voted NO to merging the two positions together). The very Congress that elected the current AFC President has made its decision on the matter at our annual Congress a year ago.
Second, I stand firm by my conviction that all sport, including our sport; football, should be free from politics and completely devoid of politicos and self-interest individuals and groups that exploit the sport and all its stakeholders for their own personal gains. That is the foundation of my ethos that I live and work throughout my 15-year career in football.
Third, I am truly surprised that this proposal has resurfaced in the past few months; led vigorously by the current AFC President. In fact, it has become the central issue on the AFC President’s football agenda in Asia.
It is unfortunate that the direction taken by the AFC President and other AFC officials is one driven purely by politics instead of focusing our energies and valuable time to improving the game in Asia and addressing the myriad challenges that AFC faces in marketing, grassroots football, women’s football, transparency and accountability and the list goes on.
It is regrettable that the AFC Presidency has spent so much time and energy over the past few days in Kuala Lumpur lobbying heavily for this proposal amongst Asian member association representatives; instead of working hand in hand for the development of football in Asia.
It is worthy to note, as well, that the AFC President has the right to run as FIFA-VP or any other FIFA Executive seat from Asia. There aren’t any provisions in our statutes that prevent the president from doing so democratically.
Fourth, I believe there is wisdom in maintaining the two positions separate. It allows the FIFA Vice President to focus on Asian football issues in FIFA, while the AFC President focuses on addressing football challenges in Asia and strengthening football development which is a very big task. AFC is not the only confederation to follow this system.
Moreover, there is also a confederation that has more than one Vice President Representative at FIFA.
Lastly, allow me to say that I have had a rich experience in the past 3 plus years as FIFA Vice President, particularly in Asia. I have run for this position with a clear election program that outlines four principle pillars; youth development, women empowerment, the protection and positive evolution of the sport and active representation and advocacy for Asian member associations.
And I have rolled up my sleeves from day one to address the challenges Asia faces in all domains; whether through the committees I serve on in FIFA and the AFC or through the Asian Football Development Project (AFDP), a non-profit organization that only exists today to support all football organizations across Asia to move up and ahead and realize the continent’s potential.
My work will continue regardless of the outcome of this proposal. I only urge member associations and football officials to think about our priorities in Asia and decide accordingly. Let us choose football over politics.
Let us be true to the sport; its values and the community without which we are not here at AFC; the players (men and women), the coaches, the referees, the fans and all those who spend tireless efforts in the best interest of football- in action, not only in words.
I am committed to continuing my work in Asian football and I look forward to working with all of you to achieve these goals in the most honorable and respectful way in the service of football. I am only addressing you out of respect and in full transparency because I truly believe in a football family not in words but in action.
Looking forward to seeing you in Brazil.
Your brother and friend in football,
Ali Bin Al Hussein
FIFA Vice President- Asia