The three increasingly frustrated challengers to Sepp Blatter in the FIFA presidential election attend tomorrow’s Asian Football Confederation congress with no expectation of being granted the courtesy of addressing delegates from the widest-spread, most populous region in world football.
Under-pressure secretary-general Alex Soosay has published an agenda which makes full allowance for opening and closing speeches by AFC president Sheikh Salman Ebrahim Al Khalifa, for an address by Blatter (in his role as FIFA president, naturally!) plus a late change in the statutes to facilitate a scripted election result.
One day, 21 agenda items and no allowance for even ‘any other business’ let alone for Holland’s Michael Van Praag, Portugal’s Luis Figo or even Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan – one of the AFC’s own – to set out their visions for the world game.
Not that they will be surprised. All three were denied a democratic opportunity to address the congresses of South America (CONMEBOL) and of central and North America (CONCACAF). Only Europe’s Blatter-averse UEFA offered them the podium.
Still, in a region where western notions of democracy are often not merely mystifying but resented, this is little surprise.
Indeed, perhaps the AFC has more pressing issues to contemplate than a largely-predictable election in another football world.
Firstly come problems within its own family.
One is the squabble in Indonesia whose government has frozen the activities of the local football association. The row began after a league sponsorship deal with the Qatar National Bank and escalated into a dispute over which clubs could compete.
The Indonesian Professional Sports Agency (BOPI), run under the auspices of the Youth and Sports Ministry, ordered two clubs barred and was snubbed by the league and PSSI.
Hence the Ministry suspended competition after two rounds of matches which, in turn, prompted a formal warning from FIFA that such government interference contravened its statutes and risked Indonesia’s suspension from international competition (including the current World Cup qualifiers).
Another storm, even closer to home for the AFC, has erupted in Pakistan where Sardar Naveed Haider was elected president of the Punjab region after a bitterly contested election.
Haider is an ally of Faisal Saleh Hayat, president of the PFF and seeking re-election to the AFC’s executive committee. A protest by the government-backed loser, Ali Haider Noor Niazi, was rejected by the PFF’s electoral commission.
This was no surprise: the electoral commission is headed by Syed Nayyar Haider who is not only a member of the disciplinary committees of both FIFA and the AFC but also brother-in-law of the PFF president.
Even setting aside all the conflicts of interest, the AFC has direct issues of its own which have not been addressed since Sheikh Salman assumed the poisoned presidential legacy of Mohamed Bin Hamman.
An ethics committee was created but has been notably supine; no attempt has been made to pursue the issues raised by the PWC report into Bin Hammam’s activities (concerns which have resurfaced with cover-up allegations against Soosay); and no light has been shed on the contentious relationship between the AFC and World Sports Group.
The shift towards an increasingly pro-Arab command and control structure is clear. Sheikh Salman has created a further region to reduce the chance of a platform for anyone else. He has also taken a significant step backwards by scrapping the AFC’s designated women football’s vice-presidency.
This may owe something to the perception of Australia’s Moya Dodd – certain to remain on the AFC executive committee at least – as a progressive within FIFA where she is a co-opted member of Blatter’s exco (A number of Arab federations are uneasy about having Australia in the AFC at all but that is a matter for another day).
The most intriguing AFC election concerns the FIFA slots.
Sheikh Salman, unopposed as president, will assume the FIFA vice-presidency relinquished by Jordan’s Prince Ali; Malaysia’s Prince Abdullah Al Haj Ibni Sultan Ahmad Shah Al-Musta’in Billah could oust Thailand’s FIFA veteran Worawi Makudi in the ASEAN zone; and it will be tight in the East between South Korea’s Mong Gyu Chung and Japan’s respected Kohzo Tashima.
Then there is the West Zone . . . the two-year slot for which statutes will doubtless be amended so that Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, Kuwait Olympic powerbroker and Asian puppet-master, can extend his regional power reach directly into world football.
No wonder the AFC has no time to think about greater governance issues. But then, silencing Prince Ali, Van Praag and Figo is a statement in its own right.