KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: A significant blow has been struck against Saudi Arabia’s bid to expand its power base within the Asian Football Confederation.

The South-West Asian Football Federation, which has been created on a Saudi FA initiative in August and forced upon the AFC leadership, has been cut in half by the withdrawal of all seven members of the South Asian Football Federation: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

They decided to step back at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, ahead of tomorrow’s AFC Congress which is due to consider a number of contentious changes to the statutes concerning election regulations.

Congress had also been expected to recognise SWAFF officially as a fifth regional federation but this may now be in doubt after the schism.

Subrata Dutta, vice-president of the All India Football Federation, had been appointed as SWAFF vice president back in August at the new federation’s first general assembly in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Speculation after the meeting revolved around suggestions that some of the seven FAs felt that a retreat had been essential to protect their places in the AFC development funds queue.

Saudi Arabia’s ambitions in the regional and world game have come into focus this year. Adel Ezzat, former Saudi FA president, has declared himself a candidate for the AFC presidency next year and it has been widely reported that Saudi money is helping fuel a $25bn proposal from the Japanese conglomerate Softbank to world federation FIFA for a revamp of international competitions.

AFC president Sheikh Saman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa is expected to present a powerful case for his own position at congress by stressing the importance of a new marketing agreement his leadership concluded on Monday.

A signing ceremony in Kuala Lumpur saw Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa secure a commercial contract with DDMC Fortis which “secures the financial future of the game in Asia for a decade.”

Exclusive rights have been awarded to DDMC Fortis to market the AFC’s commercial properties for the next two cycles from 2021-28 and starting with the final qualifying round for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Company mission

DDMC Fortis was created specifically for the purpose by combining divisions of DDMC, a leading Chinese sports, media and entertainment company, with Fortis Sports, a sports marketing agency founded by Patrick Murphy and David Tyler.

Sheikh Salman said: “This is a most significant day in the history of the AFC. With the signing of this contract, the AFC can guarantee its Member Associations that the game in Asia has tremendously solid financial foundations from which to build. The game in Asia has never been in a better position and we should cherish that.”

The agreement, according to an AFC statement, will see DDMC Fortis “dedicated entirely to the AFC’s determination to deliver the three AFC Vision statements of being the world’s leading confederation; to produce successful teams and to confirm football as the No1 sport in Asia.”

Sheikh Salman is expected to tell congress – which will be attended by FIFA president Gianni Infantino – how the AFC plans to invest the current funds in 2019 and 2020. This will also be seen as a further step in his own pursuit of re-election next year.

** FIFA president Gianni Infantino and senior executives of Asian football have attended the official inauguration of the AFC’s New Building in Kuala Lumpur.