Jordan’s Prince Ali ousted South Korean Chung Mong-joon from the FIFA role three years ago and Sheikh Salman was elected to the Asian presidency in succession to disgraced Mohamed Bin Hammam 13 months ago.
Both are up for re-election next year but the balance of power could shift decisively next month in Sao Paulo, Brazil, just before the World Cup’s Opening Match.
Sheikh Salman hopes to persuade an AFC extraordinary congress to change statutes and unite the roles of president and FIFA vice-president.
This is the case with Europe (UEFA president Michel Platini), Africa (CAF’s Issa Hayatou), central/north America (CONCACAF’s Jeff Webb) and Oceania (David Chung) but not Asia or South America.
AFC Congress rejected the ‘unity’ idea overwhelmingly last year. This spring the FIFA executive rebuffed Sheikh Salman’s bid to win the support of the world game’s governing body, insisting that this was an issue for the AFC not the world governing body.
Prince Ali has defended the status quo on the grounds that the FIFA vice-president should focus on Asia in the world with the AFC president concentrating on the region’s many and varied internal demands.
In Lisbon last weekend for the UEFA Champions League Final, he told Associated Press: “We have to be, let’s say, a sportsman on and off the field and accept it and not be too personal about anything . . . It is not about Salman or Ali or anybody.
“Does [the present arrangement] make sense? It is as simple as that. Everybody has to bring his case and we have to convince the others what’s the right decision for the organisation, not individuals. If the majority feels it wants it to be changed, it’s fine. Let’s not take it further than that.”
The balance of power has changed since the lost vote last year. For one thing, 2022 World Cup host Qatar and seven other national associations have come out in support of a statutes change.
Speculation has been raised that an influential role may be due to Sheikh Almad Al-Sabah of Kuwait; the increasingly powerful president of the Association of National Olympic Committees backed Sheikh Salman in the AFC election last year and was then an upfront supporter of Thomas Bach’s succession to the IOC leadership.
A further political issue also lurks at the pinnacle of the world game. Prince Ali is a member of the reformist ‘new wave’ of FIFA executive members.
However it is understood that Sheikh Salman lined up alongside the executive old guard who tried – and failed – to scrap the ethics inquiry into the Qatar World Cup award being run by FIFA’s independent investigator Michael Garcia.
Simultaneously Sheikh Salman oversees the worldwide survey being undertaken by FIFA into the pros and cons of switching the 2022 World Cup finals from summer to winter.
Asia has four voting members on the 24-member FIFA executive committee. They are Prince Ali as vice-president, Sheikh Salman (voted in to elect west Asia), Thailand’s Worawi Makudi (south-east Asia) China’s and Zhang Jilong (east Asia). In addition Australia’s Moya Dodd is a co-opted women’s football representative.
Blatter was in Jordan yesterday at the start of a new attempt to achieve progress in the Palestine/Israel mediation over freedom of movement of athletes. Of course, AFC issues were also discussed.