KEIR RADNEDGE in DOHA: Just when questions were being posed about Sheikh Salman of Bahrain’s leadership of Asian football, so he has received a ringing endorsement from one of the only four men who have sat at FIFA’s top table since before Sepp Blatter assumed power.
Worawi Makudi has led Thai football since 2007 and has been an Asian delegate on the world federation’s executive committee since 1997. Only Issa Hayatou (Africa, 1990), Belgium’s Michel D’Hooghe (1988) and Turkey’s Senes Erzik (1996) have been sat atop football’s Mount Olympus for longer.
Thus the status and patronage Makudi commands offer heavyweight authority to his comments to this writer during his brief diplomatic stop-off at the Doha Goals Forum in Qatar.
They will be perused with especial interest throughout Asian football, six months out from critical elections next May for both the AFC and its representation at FIFA.
Sheikh Salman Ebrahim bin Khalifa was elected in 2013 to complete the current mandate of disgraced and banned Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam. He has also assured himself, if re-elected, of the role of FIFA vice-president in place of Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan.
However his alleged role in Bahraini human rights controversies and rumblings of impatience that he has generated words rather than deeds within the AFC have prompted speculation about his power base.
His preference for hosting meetings ‘at home’ in Bahrain rather than at the AFC’s Kuala Lumpur headquarters have also sparked irritation.
However 62-year-old Makudi, who is expected to stand again for the FIFA exco, has no doubt that Sheikh Salman is the right man to lead Asian football into a brave new world.
Makudi said: “I never wish to talk publicly about issues at FIFA out of respect but, as for my own Asian confederation, I can say what I think about the new leadership of Sheikh Salman – and I think he is doing very well.
“It’s a big job to be president of the AFC but I think he has a great vision for the future of Asian football and how it should be run. I admire him. I fully support everything that he has done so far and what he proposes for our Asian football family. I think he has a great vision for us.”
Controversy used to be almost an essential qualification in the curriculum vitae of FIFA exco members in the era when Makudi came on board. But he is a great survivor and now he has weathered his latest storm in Thai football, over his presidential re-election, he believes in a similar fraught-free future for the AFC.
He said: “Now we are running very well. We have the biggest population of all the regions in the world, in Asia, and also a lot of resources when you think of the sponsor companies from Asia, from China, from Japan and from South Korea.
“Maybe you can see some difficulties but it’s the same everywhere. This is life. From what I have seen up, both looking back and looking at the present times, we have great potential.”
Makudi was general secretary of the Football Association of Thailand for a decade before stepping up as president 17 years ago.
He has trumphantly fended off accusations of irregularities over alleged misuse of FIFA development funds and even his re-election last year was secured only after a two-day duel with rival Virach Chanpanish at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The one battle Makudi did not win was against Lord David Triesman, former head of the Football Association and leader of England’s doomed bid to host the 2018 World Cup.
In May 2011, Triesman told the UK parliamentary culture, media and sport committee that Makudi had demanded the TV rights to a friendly between England and Thailand in return for voting for the FA’s vote in the scandal-assailed World Cup bid process.
Makudi’s attempt to sue Triesman for libel, notwithstanding the allegations being bound by parliamentary privilege, was rejected last February by the Court of Appeal.
He is still smarting over the issue.
Makudi said: “This business with Lord Triesman: none of it was true. I met him only twice. The problem is, I cannot go everywhere in the world to explain the real facts.
“I am very, very upset. The clever thing is that he is protected [by parliamentary privilege]. I cannot understand why he did that. If he had a problem why didn’t he come out and say it in the open? Then we could have discussed it, man to man. Like gentlemen.”
** Ganesh Thapa has stepped down temporarily as president of the Nepal football association pending the outcome of a FIFA’s ethics investigations into allegations of financial irregularities made by vice-presidents Karma Tsering Sherpa and Bijay Narayan Manandhar.
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