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Mohamed Bin Hammam's shadow looms large over AFC presidential elections

Mohamed Bin Hammam

Mohamed Bin Hammam

Will the upcoming elections for the AFC presidential post bring real change and transparency in Asian football administration or will it just be the same old wine in a new bottle?

The question assumes significance considering that in the list of nominations for the AFC presidential elections at the extraordinary electoral congress at its headquarters on May 2, three of the four contestants are close to ousted former chief Mohammed bin Hammam. The Qatari football official was banned for life in December following allegations of corruption and financial irregularities in his role as AFC president.

The three contestants who are said to be protégés of bin Hammam are ‘Dato’ Worawi Makudi (Thailand), Dr. Hafez Ibrahim Al Medlej (Saudi Arabia) and Yousuf Al Serkal (UAE). The ‘outsider’ is Shaikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa (Bahrain), a bitter rival of the Qatari, who was defeated narrowly by bin Hammam in the election for the FIFA executive committee post.

Shaikh Salman is also contesting for the FIFA ExCo member post where he will be up against Hassan Al Thawadi (Qatar) who masterminded his nation’s successful but controversial bid for the 2022 World Cup and is now chief organiser of the event. The FIFA ExCo post is for four years (2013-2017) while the AFC president will only occupy the chair for two years (2013-2015).

Shaikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa

Shaikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa

Should an associate of bin Hamam win the presidential elections and the Qatari comes through as the FIFA ExCo representative, the same coterie will again be running the show at the 46-member continental federation by ‘proxy’. Quite surprisingly, acting AFC president Zhang Jilong, who tried to set the AFC house in order while in the hot seat, did not throw his hat into the ring.

The controversial Makudi has made a head start in the campaign as he has reportedly secured unanimous support from all 11 members of the ASEAN Football Federation. The AFF president, Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah, who preceded Bin Hammam as AFC president from 1994-2002 has already made a public statement endorsing Makudi’s candidacy. It is believed that Australia also will rally behind the Thai official.

One of the more controversial football officials, Makudi has repeatedly been assailed with corruption allegations, including being suspected of helping to bribe voters at the Caribbean Football Union meeting at Trinidad in May 2011 to vote for bin Hammam against Sepp Blatter in the FIFA presidential elections. He was also investigated and cleared by FIFA in 2011 for misusing their development grants, besides being accused of soliciting bribes for officials to back England’s abortive World Cup bid. He was also said to have been involved in a fraud concerning the cancellation of a lucrative broadcasting rights deal. Makudi has denied all allegations.

Dr. Hafez Ibrahim Al Medlej is alleged to have been involved in the controversial $1 billion broadcast deal with the World Sports Group that was highlighted by the PricewaterhouseCoopers audit which revealed alleged misdemeanours in the bin Hammam presidency and forced him out of office. Yousuf Al Serkal is said to have hired two former AFC employees who were forced to quit after the heat was turned on bin Hammam at the AFC.

What has queered the pitch for Makudi and the pro-bin Hammam candidates is that former AFC strongman ‘Dato’ Peter Vellapan of Malaysia has come out strongly against the trio and asked voters to support Shaikh Salman. “None of the AFC ExCo members are fit to hold the post of president,” the Malaysian said according to a media report. “They are friends of bin Hammam and they come with too much baggage. If any one of them is elected, we will have the ghost of bin Hammam running the show again.”

On the other hand, Shaikh Salman lacks a dedicated vote bank as there are three candidates from the Arab world and the West Asian vote will be split — Al Serkal claims he has the majority of the Arabian Gulf votes and he has urged his two neighbouring rivals to step down in his favour. The ongoing democratic upsurge in Bahrain in which a few members of the national football team have taken part and which the royal family has put down with an iron hand – with the support of Saudi Arabia and Qatar incidentally – may also dent the appeal of Shaikh Salman.

It is expected that the Bahraini will get the backing of the godfathers of Zurich whose witch hunt against bin Hammam to force him out of football has led to the present election. The big bosses of FIFA will without doubt move heaven and earth to get an amenable candidate in the AFC presidential chair and also as the Asian representative in the world body. Salman has promised full financial transparency and a zero degree toleration of corruption and should he win, he would be expected to carry on the investigations in the various items of malfeasance that were revealed by the PwC audit, including the role of the Singapore-based World Series Group.

What is interesting to watch is which way India and Praful Patel will swing. Last time it was bin Hammam who got the nod, but our football bosses now cannot displease FIFA as they want the world body to award India the 2017 under-17 World Cup hosting rights. There is big money to be spent and made on the various infrastructural and organizing contracts connected to the event.

There will surely be some give and take between the rival candidates before the field is watered down to just to a one versus one contest. It will nevertheless be a dizzy race full of twists turns before the winner crosses the finishing line.

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