Accusations overshadow voting for Asian football

Accusations overshadow voting for Asian football

KUALA LUMPUR - Agence France-Presse
Accusations overshadow voting for Asian football

Bahrain Football Association President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim is the favorite to win the election for the Asian Football Confederation hot seat. AFP photo

Asia’s troubled football body elects a new leader today after a bitter campaign dominated by claim and counter-claim of outside interference, and even allegations of human rights abuses.

Two years after vote-buying accusations prompted the eventual downfall of former president Mohamed bin Hammam, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is at risk of new controversy as delegates gather to choose his successor.

All three leading candidates for the presidency have been accused, at some point, of either corruption or allowing outside powers to meddle in the vote, tempering hopes of a new era of openness and transparency.

Accusations, denials and counter-claims have flown thick recently, lending a testy atmosphere to proceedings as representatives of the AFC’s 46 members meet in Kuala Lumpur.

Biggest confederation

If the battle has been hard-fought, it’s because the stakes are high: the world’s biggest football confederation has significant revenues and influence across a vast region stretching from the Middle East to Oceania.

Three main candidates are in the running to complete bin Hammam’s current term, which concludes in 2015. The Qatari stepped down last year after allegations of bribery and financial wrongdoing, and is barred from football activities.

Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa is the favorite, but the Bahraini royal has been on the defensive over vote-buying allegations and claims that he oversaw the arrest of footballers during a crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

The UAE’s Yousef Al Serkal is also confident about his chances, and has been perhaps the most persuasive about cleaning up Asian football after vowing to reveal his allowances and launch a “whistle-blower” anti-corruption scheme.

However, Al Serkal is a friend of bin Hammam, a connection which will worry some voters -- especially after an accusation this week, by an ally of Sheikh Salman, that the Qatari was meddling in the election.

Worawi Makudi of Thailand, a controversial presence, is the third serious contender. Worawi, who has faced down corruption accusations in the past, is also a bin Hammam ally.

Whoever wins the battle, he will face a difficult task in uniting the body after the divisive election campaign, and before the next election in 2015.

“The member associations are split not in half, but in several parts,” a source close to Zhang warned AFP in February, when he revealed that the Chinese boss would not contest the vote. He added: “The election itself could be not only a split of the votes, but also a split of the hearts.”