By Andrew Warshaw
February 2 – The names have been revealed, now the campaigning begins. The Asian Football Confederation has announced that eight candidates have put their names forward for the Continent’s four available places available on the FIFA Council, at least one of which must be filled by a woman.
The four male contenders are Chinese FA general-secretary Zhang Jian, Chung Mong Gyu of South Korea, Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad Fahad Al-Sabah and the surprise package, Philippines FA boss Mariano Araneta Jr.
For the female post, Australia’s Moya Dodd, one of the first women to serve on FIFA’s ‘old’ executive committee as a co-opted member and a forceful campaigner for gender equality, will take on Mahfuza Akhter of Bangladesh, North Korea’s Han Un Gyong and Susan R. A. Alshalabi of Palestine.
Elections for the new seats will be held on May 8 in Bahrain, two days before the Fifa Congress with fierce lobbying expected in the intervening three months.
Such have been the political manoevrings behind the scenes that the make-up of the nominations looks somewhat different to those put forward for the original election date last September.
That was postponed when the entire AFC Congress in Goa was aborted after just 27 minutes because of a row over FIFA disqualifying Qatar’s Saoud Al-Mohannadi, an AFC vice-president, from standing.
Since then, Al-Mohannadi has been banned by FIFA’s ethics committee for one year for failing to cooperate as a witness with an as yet unnamed FIFA investigation. As a result, he can’t stand in May but he is not the only one who is no longer on the ballot paper.
Iran’s former federation president Ali Kafashian Naeni is no longer on the list and nor is Zainudin Nordin of Singapore. Intriguingly, both of them are understood to have voted for Gianni Infantino at the FIFA presidential election a year ago and their sudden change of heart could be construed as Asian disquiet with the prospect of too many Infantino supporters on the Council.
One other name conspicuous by its absence is that of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup chief organiser Hassan al-Thawadi. Keen to have a voice at FIFA’s top table on World Cup matters, there had been considerable speculation that al-Thawadi might put his name forward having lost out in 2013 in his bid to join the old executive committee which has now been rebranded, expanded and renamed.
The most eye-catching and controversial nominee is Sheikh Ahmad, one of the most powerful men in Asian sport who has been put forward for re-election even though his country is currently isolated in international sport after being suspended by both FIFA and the International Olympic Committee. With Kuwait’s national federation barred from nominating candidates, it is not clear who supported Sheikh Ahmad’s candidacy.
The AFC will also elect a new regional Vice-President for its eastern half to replace China’s Zhang Jilong for the remaining term of 2015-2019. That person will automatically be Chung Mong-Gyu since he is the only candidate for the position, a far cry from two years ago when – ironically also in Bahrain – he failed to land a FIFA exco seat and was refused permission to complain about the voting process.
As for the women’s post, three of those standing are the same as before, the new nominee being Alshalabi about whom little is known.
As a previous non-voting member of FIFA’s exco, Dodd has more experience than the others within FIFA’s political circles – she is also current chair of FIFA’s Women’s Football Taskforce. But that doesn’t mean she will necessarily get the nod with many in Asian circles believed to be uncomfortable with Australia’s continuing status as an AFC member. Of course, AFC members may vote in more than one women to the FIFA Council.
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