KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Qatar has secured a place back at the top table of world football for the first time since the scandal-scarred exit of Mohamed bin Hammam eight years ago.
Saoud Al-Mohannadi, having taken a diplomatic step back from challenging for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation, was elected as one of its seven members of the governing council of world federation FIFA.
Election represented victory in a lengthy fight for the Qatari whose first attempt to stand for FIFA Council had been blocked by an ethics commission suspension in 2016. This was later quashed by the FIFA appeal committee.
His eventual success now at AFC congress in its headquarters city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, also represented another major sports success for Qatar in its political confrontation with the antagonistic boycott headed by Saudi Arabia and supported by, among others, United Arab Emirates.
Qatar’s success off the pitch followed the national team’s notable victories on it in defeating Saudi Arabia and hosts UAE in February on the way to winning the Asian Cup.
The Gulf state lost its place on the governing body of FIFA in 2011 when Qatar’s Bin Hammam, then the Asian president, was suspended over bribery allegations and subsequently banned from the game for muddling up his own bank account with that of the AFC – ethics breaches he has always denied.
The absence of Qatar from FIFA Council has always appeared an odd anomaly because of the country’s status as host of the 2022 World Cup.
Those finals have been a significant bone of contention in the infighting within the region with the Saudis working hard behind the scenes over the past two years to force their way into the corridors of power.
First, however, both their own candidate for the AFC presidency (Adel Ezzat) and then his ‘substitute’ from the UAE (Mohammed Khalfan Al Rumaithi) were forced to pull out when it became clear that the rest of Asia wanted no part of Gulf grumbles.
Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa was thus returned to the role of AFC president which he has held with increasing self-assurance since 2013. He was not present in Kuala Lumpur after the death of his mother last week but he had been certain long ago of unopposed re-election.
Sheikh Salman’s AFC leadership is accompanied automatically by a vice-presidency of FIFA to whose council he will be accompanied by Al Mohannadi, Du Zhaocai (China), Praful Patel (India), Kohzo Tashima (Japan), Mariano Araneta (Philippines) and, for the women’s slot, Mahfuza Akhter Kiron (Bangladesh).
Neither Saudi Arabia or UAE will even have a representative now on the AFC’s executive committee.
The other big loser, along with Saudi Arabia and UAE was South Korea who appeared to be punished for siding with those two by seeing its federation president Chung Mong-Gyu voted off FIFA Council. The Korean had protested, apparently to no avail, that the Qataris had given rival Araneta use of a private jet on his regional campaign trail.
World Cup expansion
Congress marked the end of pioneering Australian Moya Dodd’s term as a female member on AFC exco to which she had been appointed initially under Bin Hammam in 2007 and then elected in 2009, 2013, and 2015. Australia’s representative is Chris Nikou, the head of the FFA.
In one further success for Qatar, Congress approved its proposal to a change in statutes which allowed Al-Mohannadi to retain, by acclamation, his position as AFC vice-chair for West Asia.
His newly-enhanced status is likely to firm up Qatar’s assumed opposition to the idea of expanding and sharing the 2022 World Cup finals with any of their neighbours. FIFA president Gianni Infantino told AFC Congress that the possibility of stepping up from 32 to 48 teams would be taken in June.
Qatar organisers have insisted they would be content to abide with whatever FIFA decided. However it may be assumed they would be irritated, to say the least, if a neighbouring state were to be awarded a share of hosting glory for which they have striven for so long in the face of a welter of criticism for one reason or another.
AFC election results:
President and FIFA vice-president: Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa (Bahrain)
FIFA Council: Du Zhaocai (China), Praful Patel (India), Kohzo Tashima (Japan), Mariano Araneta Jr (Philippines), Saoud A. Aziz M A Al-Mohannadi (Qatar). Female member: Mahfuza Akhter Kiron (Bangladesh).
West Zone: Saoud Al-Mohannadi (Qatar). Central Zone: Mehdi Taj (Iran). South Zone: Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat (Pakistan). ASEAN Zone: Zaw Zaw (Myanmar). East Zone: Ganbaatar Amgalanbaatar (Mongolia).Female representatives – West: Susan Alshalabi (Palestine). South: Mahfuza Akhter Kiron (Bangladesh). ASEAN: Kanya Keomany (Laos). East: Han Un Gyong (N Korea). Central: (at later date).
AFC executive committee:
West Zone: Abed-Alkhaliq Masoud Ahmed (Iraq), Hachem Haider (Lebanon), Salem Said Salem Al Wahaibi (Oman), Hamid Mohammed Ali Al-Shaibani (Yemen). Central: Sayed Ali Reza Aghazada (Afghanistan). South: Dasho Ugen Tsechup Dorji (Bhutan). ASEAN: Chris Nikou (Australia), Haji Hamidin Bin Haji Mohd Amin (Malaysia), Tran Quoc Tuan (Vietnam). East: Fok Kai Shan Eric (Hong Kong).