SINGAPORE, (Reuters) – Mohammed Bin Hammam’s lifetime ban from soccer is likely to transform Friday’s scheduled Asian Football Confederation (AFC) executive committee meeting into a platform for prospective candidates to campaign for votes to fill his presidential role.
AFC president since 2002, Bin Hammam plans to appeal the FIFA ethics committee ruling on Saturday that the 62-year-old Qatari was guilty of trying to buy votes in his failed bid to oust Sepp Blatter as the head of world soccer in June.
China’s Zhang Jilong, an AFC vice-president but not a member of the all-powerful FIFA executive committee, has been in temporary charge of the regional body since Bin Hammam was initially suspended at the end of May.
He said in a statement yesterday that the AFC must stay united after the incident which followed a number of match-fixing scandals across their 46 member associations.
“I, in my capacity as the acting AFC president, am aware of the urgent need to provide a strong leadership that will work closely with the member associations towards creating a climate of trust and confidence.
“During my provisional president, I promise that AFC will govern the continent’s football affairs in complete transparency, fairness and harmony,” Zhang said, using words very similar to those employed by Bin Hammam when he outlined his FIFA presidency manifesto in March.
Zhang’s comments of providing support to the likes of South Korea, engulfed in a match-fixing scandal that has led to the arrest of a number of players in the top-flight K-League, are far different from the reserved stance he took when discussing the topic with Reuters last month.
His thoughts then were to leave the likes of South Korea, China and Malaysia to eradicate the problems by themselves but after Bin Hammam was banned by FIFA, Zhang’s pledge could be seen as a presidential manifesto of his own.
Bin Hammam allies
The problem for Zhang, if he does choose to run, is that he may not hold enough popularity among Asia’s member associations.
While he assumed the role as temporary head via his position as the most senior member of the AFC, he failed to win a seat on the FIFA executive committee in January after losing out in a race for two positions.
The two men that beat Zhang at the AFC elections in Qatar earlier this year were Thailand’s Worawi Makudi and Sri Lanka’s Manilal Fernando, who both accompanied Bin Hammam on the ill-fated trip to Trinidad, where he was found guilty of bribing officials.