SHANGHAI: The delicate power balance within the Asian confederation has been shaken again with the decision of acting president Zhang Jilong not to stay on.

Zhang took over on an interim basis when controversial Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam was handed a life ban from world football by FIFA in 2011.  Bin Hammam was cleared subsequently by the Court of Arbitration for Sport but was banned again and permanently last December.

The AFC set May 2 in Kuala Lumpur as the date for an extraordinary congress to vote for a new president, for a new representative on the FIFA executive committee (occupied at present by Zhang in his role as acting leader) and for other senior positions.

Zhang had initially expressed a reluctance for seek the presidency in the long term but then appeared to change his mind. Now, according to media reports in China, he has gone back to square one and decided not to contest either the presidency or the FIFA exco seat.

Sources close to the man who was AFC finance chairman throughout Bin Hammam’s controversial decade in command have suggested a decisive factor was the campaign support afforded to Thailand’s Worawi Makudi by the 11 south-east Asian associations plus Australia.

Split vote

Until then Zhang appeared to favourite to win the election because the West Asian/Arab vote appeared likely to split between Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, the UAE’s AFC vice-president Yousuf Al Serkal as well as Saudi Arabia’s Hafez Al Medlej who is president of the AFC marketing committee.

The source, asked about Zhang, said: “He’s not running. He has decided after long and careful thought. He doesn’t want the AFC to be split for the next two years.

“The member associations are split not in half but in several parts. It’s Zhang’s wish that the football family can get together, back to unity and solidarity.”

Significantly, Zhang was said to have made his decision “a couple of days” ago.

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