Seoul, Jul 28 : A week that started with Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam refusing to resign despite receiving a life ban from FIFA could end with the continental executive making steps toward calling an election to choose his successor.
Bin Hammam wrote to the confederation's 46 member associations on Monday to seek understanding, patience and support as he prepares to appeal against last weekend's decision from FIFA's ethics committee to ban him for life on charges of bribery during his election campaign against Sepp Blatter for the presidency of football's world governing body.
AFC statutes indicate that the office of president can be vacant for one year before a congress must be held to resolve the situation. The next ordinary AFC Congress will be held in 2013. An extraordinary congress can be convened at any time, however, if one-third of member associations or the executive committee calls for it.
With the 23-member executive committee meeting Friday in Kuala Lumpur, the prospect of an extraordinary congress is a growing possibility as pressure builds for a quick resolution with Asian football facing a number of issues, not least match-fixing.
FIFA vice president Prince Ali Al Hussein of Jordan, who defeated Bin Hammam's close ally Chung Mong-joon at January's AFC Congress for a seat on the FIFA executive committee, does not want the AFC presidency to remain unresolved for long.
“Mr. Bin Hammam has the right to appeal and that is his own personal decision and we respect that,” Prince Ali told The Associated Press in an email. “However, it would be unacceptable for anyone to try and drag AFC and Asian football into any process through irresponsible action. I certainly will not accept that.”
Japan Football Association president, and former FIFA Executive Committee member, Junji Ogura echoed Prince Ali's call, saying that Bin Hammam “has been banned for life so I think an election needs to be held.”
“He doesn't think he has done anything wrong and said he has no intention of quitting as AFC President and FIFA executive,” Ogura told reporters this week in Tokyo.
These have been rare statements from senior Asian football figures with the confederation remaining even more tightlipped than usual and most national associations reluctant to comment while bin Hammam's status remains unresolved.
Acting AFC president Zhang Jilong declined an interview for this story and previous requests from The AP in his native China and at AFC headquarters.
An advisory issued Wednesday by the AFC warned journalists that AFC House would be off limits for media on Friday and that any outcomes of the executive committee would be released in a statement only, meaning no news conference and no other comment from the executive or bureaucracy.
Bin Hammam has been more forthcoming on his personal blog and Twitter, though his personal page on the AFC's official site has been removed. On his personal website he displayed the letter, on AFC-headed paper, which he sent to all associations.
“I have all the right to fight against this shameful decision until I clear my name,” he wrote. “It may take some time before I go through the appeal committee of FIFA and the Court of Sports Arbitration (CAS) and possible other procedures.
“That means I will not render my resignation as AFC President and FIFA member representing Asia as far as the legal proceedings are continuing. I am appealing for your understanding and appreciation for my cause and reasons and looking for your support to me until I prove my innocence.”
Zhang said in a statement released last weekend that bin Hammam's suspension was a “sad day for the AFC and Asian football.”
“AFC respects FIFA's decision and we also acknowledge former AFC president Mohamed bin Hammam's inalienable right to lodge an appeal against the decision. AFC has nothing more to say on this particular issue.”
As acting president, Zhang would be a formidable opponent in any AFC election although, like other possible candidates, he is yet to publicly discuss the issue.
Prince Ali told the AP that he was not going to put his name forward for the AFC presidency and refused to speculate on likely contenders. But he said the president should be somebody who “runs on a clear platform, who explains himself and his vision and presents a program on how he sees the future of AFC, rather than running on a political platform or based on geography.”
But the key to success in Asia often lies in shoring up regional support.
While East Asia has dominated on the field in recent years—Japan won the 2011 Asian Cup and, along with South Korea, made the second round of the 2010 World Cup and clubs from those two nations have won the last five Asian Champions League titles—the western side of the continent has wielded more power off the pitch due to political maneuvering and an ability to present an apparently more united front.
It is far from certain that the east can unite behind Zhang or a possible challenge from Japanese committee member Kohzo Tashima. Sources close to South Korea's Chung, the highest-profile figure in Asian football politics after Bin Hammam, say he hasn't made a decision on whether to run for the AFC presidency but he has been reported to be more interested in national politics and his country's presidency.
If the west Asia members can get behind one candidate then that could be enough to win a majority of the 46 votes needed. AFC vice president Yousuf Yaqoob Yousuf Al Serkal of the United Arab Emirates is a possibility, as is the president of Bahrain's Football Association Sheik Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa. Salman challenged Bin Hammam for his seat on FIFA's Executive Committee in May 2009 and—after a bitter election—only lost by 23 votes to 21.
AFC vice president Prince Abdullah Ibni Sultan Ahmad Shah of Malaysia could find support as a compromise candidate between the two edges of the continent. AP