Asian football leaders will attempt to extricate themselves from a mess of their own making at yet another extraordinary elective congress in Kuala Lumpur on February 28.
This follows the time-wasting confusion in Goa in September when delegates, at the behest of senior Asian Football Confederation officials, threw their toys out of the pram over the suspension from a ballot of Qatar’s Saoud Al Mohannadi.
The end result was that the congress was scrapped within 25 minutes. As one regional FA president said: “I wish they’d just told us by email in advance so we hadn’t had to waste so much time and effort going there and back for nothing.”
Only Asian football and the AFC was harmed by the controversy. The failure to elect new extra delegates to the expanded council of world federation FIFA meant that the AFC was under-represented at what should have been the first meeting recently of the 36-member body.
The low AFC turnout will also be noted at the January meeting of FIFA Council which is expected to take crucial decisions over the future of the World Cup.
These include whether to enlarge the finals to 40 or 48 teams, whether to endorse co-hosting and possibly whether to apply rotation for the 2030 finals (which has a direct bearing on whether China can bid for the centenary tournament).
If Asia or its officials feel they are delivered a raw deal from FIFA Council at that January meeting then they will have only themselves to blame.
A formal note from the AFC at the weekend confirmed the date and venue for the extraordinary congress, one of the very few important meetings to be held in its headquarters city since the accession to the presidency in 2013 of Bahraini Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.
The choice of venue is a gesture of consolation to local officials who lost the right to host the 2017 FIFA Congress after the Malaysian government indicated it would refuse to allow the entry into the country of football officials from Israel.
An AFC statement said that congress would:
1, hold an election for three additional AFC representatives (term 2017-2019), at least one of whom shall be female, to the FIFA Council;
2, hold an election for the seat of FIFA Council member for the term 2017–2019 currently held by Sheikh Ahmad Fahad Al Ahmad Al Sabah (term 2013-2017); and
3, hold an election for the seat of AFC Vice-President (East) for the remainder term 2015-2019 following the resignation of Zhang Jilong.
Australia’s Moya Dodd, recent recipient of two major ‘women of influence’ awards, is expected to stand again for the female delegate post. In Goa she was being challenged by Mahfuza Ahkter (Bangladesh) and Han Un Gyong (North Korea). If the AFC wants to repair its reputation vis-a-vis the world game then electing Dodd unopposed would be a positive signal.
As for the other positions, the Goa congress had been due originally to choose two out of four ‘ordinary’ candidates from among Al Mohannadi, Chinese federation general secretary Zhang Jian, Iran’s former IFF president and AFC vice-president Ali Kafashian Naeni plus Singapore FA president Zainudin Nordin.
Qatar has not been represented around the FIFA top table since Mohamed bin Hammam was banned for life in 2011. Assuming that Al Mohannadi does not run, speculation has arisen that Hassan Al Thawadi, impressive secretary-general of the Qataris’ 2022 organising committee, could stand.
A Qatari presence on FIFA Council would appear all the more important considering the proposals from president Gianni Infantino – generated, again, in the absence of a full AFC complement – to rework the entire ‘organising committee’ system once Russia 2018 is out of the way.
South Korea’s Chung Mong Gyu will presumably step up, as planned, as vice-president in place of China’s Zhang Jilong who was co-opted to remain on the AFC executive committee pending a new congress.
Al Mohannadi was barred from running, albeit very late in the day, after failing to win FIFA ethics test approval because of an investigation into what is assumed to been his conduct in relation to events concerning Bin Hammam. An inquiry by ethics chamber deputy chair Djimbaraye Bourngar had recommended that Al Mohannadi be banned for “no less than two years and six months and a fine of no less than SFr20,000”.
Adding to the intrigue ahead of the AFC election is the status of Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the highly influential, multi-tasking head of a string of Olympic bodies.
When Sheikh Ahmad was first elected to what was when the FIFA executive committee in 2015 it was thought he viewed an AFC re-election in 2017 as a stepping stone towards a possible run for the FIFA presidency in 2019 (the end of Infantino’s initial term as replacement for disgraced and banned Sepp Blatter).
However, this prospect for Sheikh Ahmad has faded with the likelihood that Infantino, after various crowd-pleasing measures such as World Cup and development cash expansion, would be difficult to beat in 2019.