After all the twisting of smoke and mirrors and accusations and counter-accusations, Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain was elected decisively as new president of the tormented Asian Football Confederation.
Salman shrugged off controversies over his human rights record and the overt support of Asian Olympic leader Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, to win on the first round of voting at an AFC election congress in Kuala Lumpur.
He collected 33 votes to achieve a runaway success over Thailand’s Worawi Makudi (seven) and Yousuf Al-Serkal of the United Arab Emirates (six). Saudi Arabia’s no-hope candidate, Hefez Al-Medlej, had withdrawn on Wednesday.
Salman celebrated a double success after he defeated Hassan Al-Thawadi of Qatar by 28 votes to 18 for a seat on the FIFA executive committee. Logic won out: it would have been nonsensical if the AFC had elected a new president with no access to the top table of the world federation.
Asia is also represented at FIFA by Makudi and by Prince Ali of Jordan, a FIFA vice-president. A fourth place fell vacant on Tuesday when FIFA banned Sri Lankan Vernon Manilil Fernando for eight years for unspecified ethics code breaches.
The AFC must act quickly to find a replacement who can joint Asia’s representatives at FIFA Congress in Mauritius on May 30 and 31.
Makudi’s poor result in the presidential election places a questionmark over his FIFA slot credibility. Five of the votes he had been promised by the south-east Asian association abandoned him when push came to vote.
The one snag for Salman is that his term of office will last less than two years before he must fight for re-election.
This is because he is ‘only’ completing the original four-year term to which disgraced Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam was elected in 2011. Bin Hammam was then banned for life by FIFA, first over bribery elections then over misuse of AFC funds.
He was succeeded on an acting basis by China’s Zhang Jilong, who had been senior vice-president, until the legalities had been overcome and the AFC had been free to hold this formal election.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter, present at Congress, sent Salman a message of congratulation and urged him to work to unify a significant disunited and fractious confederation.
Blatter acknowledged Salman’s “brilliant election” and cautioned: “One of the key missions he will have to ensure is that unity prevails within the AFC. Unity, as well as solidarity, are absolutely key and necessary pillars for any institution to build solid plans and structures for its future.
“With two thirds of the world population, Asia clearly plays a huge role in the international football community. But it certainly has not yet reached its full potential. AFC should unite all its energies to continue to strengthen the growth of the Game in Asia.”
Outgoing acting president Zhang expressed thanks to those who had worked with him over the past two years. Zhang had been expected to stand for the presidency but stood back over concerns about the negative fall-out from his role as finance committee chairman during Bin Hammam’s reign.
Zhang told Congress: “I have served Asian football in various capacities for more than 30 years now. As I step aside I would like to advise the new president and the office-bearers to guide and lead the AFC by example and keep personal or political interests aside when governing Asian football.”
Australia’s Moya Dodd was elected unopposed for the position of female vice-president. Dodd, an AFC vice-president since 2009 and chair of the AFC women’s committee, was the only candidate for the position, the term of which runs until the next AFC Congress in 2015.
Dodd also serves as the ASEAN zone’s female executive committee member.
North Korea’s Han Un-gyong and Palestine’s Susan Shalabi Molano were voted unopposed on to the exco as female members for the East and West Zones respectively.
The fourth female member of the AFC executive committee is Bangladesh’s Mahfuza Akhter who was elected unopposed to the South and Central Zone seat at the 2011 Congress.
Northern Mariana Islands were not entitled to vote as an associate member, while Brunei were approved voting rights after winning a motion at the start of the congress despite not taking part in the required two AFC competitions in the last two years.