KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —-This is the annual FIFA Jamboree week. Stage is Manama, Bahrain. It’s the one week of the year when football politicians all come together to strut their stuff under a media microscope of mistrust.
Climax comes later in the week with the world football federation’s annual congress. Rotation means this is the turn of the Asian confederation to play host – and it is the embattled AFC which kicks off the round of confederation talk-ins leading up to the Thursday’s stage-managed special.
Inbetween African confederation CAF, Oceania, Europe’s UEFA, South America’s CONMEBOL and central/north America’s CONCACAF stage a mixture of executive meetings and conferences to decide how to vote.
FIFA’s unwieldy council meets on Tuesday, still short of its full complement a year after being expanded.
Without a doubt the most important meeting is the first, on Monday, with the Asian confederation elections for four places on FIFA Council.
The elections take place enshrouded by allegations in a United States court from Richard Lai, suspended president of the Guam FA, which have pushed the AFC down into the relegation zone of football credibility.
Lai, an AFC plant on the supposedly whiter-than-white FIFA audit and compliance panel, is seeking a plea-bargain deal in the FIFAGate saga; he has admitted taking bribes from senior AFC figures clearly identified as Olympic powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah and Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam.
Both men have always denied wrongdoing. Even so, a FIFA ethics life ban ‘took out’ Bin Hammam five years ago while Sheikh Ahmad hastily quit formal football involvement 10 days ago.
That left his close associate, FIFA’s Bahraini host AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa, looking fragile, to say the least.
Sheikh Ahmad’s vanishing act has also meant that only one ballot matters in Monday’s AFC election congress, the one for the Asian confederation’s female seat on FIFA Council.
China’s Zhang Jian, South Korea’s Chung Mong-Gyu and Philippines’ Mariano Araneta can fill the available three ‘open’ slots nem con.
Four candidates, however, contest the one women’s slot: Australia’s Moya Dodd (a former co-opted member of the FIFA exco), Bangladeshi Mahfuza Akhter Kiron, North Korea’s Han Un Gyong and Palestine’s Susan Shalabi Molano.
Dodd should be the favourite. Her energetic promotion of the cause of women in football (not merely women’s football) has been one of the few positive contributions anyone in Asian football has brought to the worldwide game.
Never mind sitting in the relegation zone, the AFC will crash to the bottom of the credibility table (which, in FIFA terms, would be quite some feat) if it elects any of the other three, whatever their qualities (which have been anything but visible to the outside world).
The AFC can set a positive or negative tone for ‘FIFA Week’. Time to start getting something right for its own sake and for the sake of the game at large . . . also, and not least, for FIFA itself.