KUALA LUMPUR: The new Asian football president faces an immediate test of his stated pursuit of unity writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa secured a decisive victory over rivals from Thailand and the United Arab Emirates at the AFC’s extraordinary election congress in Kuala Lumpur last Thursday.
But the elections did not resolve all the AFC’s major personnel issues. One of its slots on the FIFA executive committee remains to be filled as soon as possible.
Two weeks ago the world federation suspended Sri Lanka’s Vernon Manilal Fernando for eight years from all football activities for code of ethics infringements whose nature remains secret.
The decision raised immediate consequences because Fernando was one of the AFC’s representatives on the FIFA executive committee.
FIFA statutes demand: “Any member of the Executive Committee who no longer exercises his official function shall be immediately replaced by the Confederation or Associations which appointed him for the remaining period of office.”
Already in mid-term on the FIFA executive are Asia’s FIFA vice-president Prince Ali of Jordan and Thailand’s Worawi Makudi. Salman was elected to one vacancy further after an election victory over Qatar’s Hassan Al-Thawadi last week but that still left the Fernando slot open.
Fernando has said he will appeal against his ban to FIFA and then, if necessary, to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. But the AFC cannot wait: it must fill his FIFA slot in time for the world federation’s congress in Mauritius at the month’s end.
The puzzle for Salman is picking the right replacement to serve out the last two years of Fernando’s term.
The simple logic of picking Al-Thawadi, beaten in the FIFA exco election last week, is out of the question.
If Salman is to put unifying words into action he needs to find a candidate from East Asia to balance the AFC’s geographical representation on FIFA.
That alone would rule out Al-Thawadi even without considering Salman’s concerns at the influence of Qatar and its former AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam.
The sponsorship power of Japan within the AFC and its leadership role over the creation of the Asian Champions League would suggest the new man should come from Tokyo.
Salman might be reluctant to promote Kohzo Tashima since the JFA’s general secretary is a possible AFC presidential contender in 2015.
A possible short-term and ‘safe’ alternative might be Saburo Kawabuchi though the launch ceo of the J.League – and now its ‘supreme adviser’ – is 76.