The whistle has sounded, the game has kicked off . . . the ‘game’ that is to resolve who takes over the intimidating task of leading the Asian Football Confederation into a brave new world which has nothing to do with Mohamed Bin Hammam.
The Qatari confirmed at the end of last year that he was dropping his fight to prove his innocence over charges of misuse of funds of the AFC during his decade-long command.
He had already won one fight, in persuading the Court of Arbitration for Sport last summer to overturn a life suspension imposed on him by world federation FIFA over bribery allegations stemming from the 2011 presidential election.
A little persuasion was applied, apparently, from the highest level in Qatar out of growing concern that the longer Bin Hammam remained on the scene the longer smears would continue to be cast over the Gulf state’s securing of host rights to the 2022 World Cup.
A link between the two – or, at the least, further smears – were cast earlier this week by the Paris bi-weekly magazine France Football.
That is now Qatar’s problem alone. The AFC has decided it can move on without the threat of MBH suddenly popping his head back up over the parapet. Hence an announcement that an election to choose a new president will take place at an extraordinary congress on May 2 in Kuala Lumpur, where the AFC is headquartered.
The leadership of the AFC has been held, on an interim basis, by China’s Zhang Jilong who was chairman of the finance committee during Bin Hammam’s reign – a fact which is likely to come back to haunt Zhang during the election campaign.
After all, if Bin Hammam had been playing fast and loose with AFC cash Zhang must surely have known about it and, apparently, acquiesced?
Nominations for the presidency are now awaited with Zhang’s rivals expected to include Yousuf Serkal (president of the United Arab Emirates FA and AFC vice-president) as well as possibly Bahrain’s Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa and Japan’s Kozo Tashima.
One man who has ruled himself out of the running is Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein of Jordan who succeeded South Korea’s Chung Mong-joon as Asia’s FIFA vice-president two years ago.
Prince Ali, president of the Jordan FA and who runs his own football development ‘think tank’, insisted on Twitter: “I have no intention to run for AFC president in this election. Look forward to a transparent and proper election. I also look forward to candidates with clear football programs that outline how Asian football will rise to its full potential.”
The AFC will also be electing a FIFA executive committee member on a four-year term until 2017, a female AFC vice-president and two female AFC executive committee members to serve until 2015. It has decided that the new president will serve ‘only’ until 2015 to fall into line with the FIFA election schedule.
An AFC statement quoted Zhang as saying: “We will have to work towards making the year 2013 memorable for Asian football. Our teams and administrators made us proud in 2012 and I am confident that we will better that mark this year.
“We have many events lined up in 2013 and we, as guardians of AFC and Asian football, must make sure that the continent scales newer heights each year.”
The new president will have his work cut out with plenty of other heavyweight issues, too: dispelling the internal mistrust and suspicion engendered during Bin Hammam’s reign, opening up the Asian club competitions and examining and assessing the monopolistic commercial rights deal Bin Hammam had negotiated with Singapore-based World Sports Group.
By Keir Radnedge