Unofficial campaigns already starting for Asia's top job

ABS-CBN Sports on Jan 28, 2016 03:04 PM
Unofficial campaigns already starting for Asia's top job
FILE - In this Thursday, April 30, 2015 file photo, Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al Khalifa leaves the AFC Congress in Manama, Bahrain. FIFA presidential candidate Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al Khalifa says a complaint by rival Prince Ali bin al-Hussein about his election conduct is “entirely inaccurate” in a statement on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, file)

Seoul (AP) — The position is not yet vacant, and may not become so, but already the contenders for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation are beginning their undeclared campaigns.

The incumbent, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, is in the race to become head of the world governing body FIFA, and if he succeeds, the AFC job will be available.

Dr Hafez Al Medlej, a candidate in the 2013 AFC presidential election when Salman was first elected, said it would be a wide-open race.

"Sheikh Salman has a good chance of winning the FIFA election," Al Medlej told The Associated Press. "As soon as it happens then the AFC will start moving. When you look at the AFC Executive Committee then you can see so many candidates."

According to the Saudi Arabian, the three most likely are Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-sabah from Kuwait, Malaysia's Tengku Abdullah and Kohzo Tashima of Japan. The trio were elected onto FIFA's powerful Executive Committee in 2015.

Sheikh Ahmad, the president of the Olympic Council of Asia, is a powerful figure in sports politics. His support of Sheikh Salman was crucial as the Bahraini took the AFC presidency and is just as important as he looks towards FIFA.

"Sheikh Ahmed wants to be the president (of the AFC)," said Al Medlej. "He didn't enter the FIFA Executive Committee without an interest in football and the AFC would likely be a target, and Abdullah is well-known all around Asia."

Abdullah recently resigned as head of Football Association of Malaysia, ostensibly due to the country's poor results in qualification for the 2018 World Cup though his allies perceived he was giving himself time to concentrate on his AFC and FIFA ambitions.

A key issue in the election will be the master rights deal the AFC signed in 2009 with sports marketing company World Sports Group — now known as Lagardere sports — that runs from 2013-2020.

During an audit of the AFC in 2012, published by British newspaper The Sunday Times, consultancy group PricewaterhouseCoopers raised questions about the $1 billion deal and recommended that the AFC seek legal advice on whether it could be renegotiated or even canceled. Sheikh Salman, elected on a promise of transparency, has seemingly done little to act on the issue.

Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein has raised questions about the rights deal. The Jordanian ran against long-term FIFA president Sepp Blatter in 2015, winning one third of the vote. Al Hussein is again a candidate in the FIFA election but sources say it is unlikely he would be interested in the Asian job.

Another possible candidate is former president of the United Arab Emirates Football Association, Mohammed Khalfan Al Romaithi, while Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, would be expected to join any race.

Chong Mong-gyu, the president of the Korea Football Association, could also be a contender.

If Chong stays out of the race, then Tashima, who defeated Chong in the FIFA Executive Committee election in 2015, would almost certainly be east Asia's only candidate.

According to Al Medlej, the vice-president of the Japan Football Association (JFA) has plenty of work to do.

"Tashima does not have a wide relationship outside Japan and east Asia. If he is to win, he needs the support of strong leaders like Sheikh Ahmad and Abdullah but they may be running against him."

Tashima will contest an election in Tokyo on January 31 to become president of the JFA. A defeat at the hands of Hiromi Hara would be a blow to his continental chances.

Sheikh Ahmad, a member of Kuwait's ruling family, also has domestic problems to resolve. He has been accused of responsibility for the country's suspension from FIFA and the International Olympic Committee due to political interference in the running of these sports.

Despite Kuwait's current suspension from the international game, Sheikh Ahmad should be eligible to run. The AFC told Associated Press that any candidate applying to run for the presidency will be assessed by the confederation's Electoral Committee.

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