By Paul Nicholson
September 13 – Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa was in Zurich this week to meet FIFA president Gianni Infantino with greater co-operation between FIFA and the AFC, and in particular on how FIFA spends its money in Asia, on the agenda.
Also up for broader discussion was FIFA’s relationship with its associate confederations that can currently best be described as not being one based universally on trust.
Who is actually in charge at regional confederation level has become a hot issue with FIFA having stepped in to take administrative and commercial control of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), though doing so without the agreement or support of all the other regional confederations. The statutory legality of that move was questioned by UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin when FIFA attempted to railroad his support, and is the subject of a legal challenge from within Africa at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Infantino and FIFA have history in Asia. When the world body has been perceived to be attempting to manipulate Asia to its will, the Asians have generally – and with solidarity – bitten back. Within the last year Infantino gently warned FIFA to keep out of meddling in the AFC’s elections and processes.
It was a warning that he should not have needed after the extraordinary example of September 2016 in Goa, India, when after just 27 minutes the AFC disbanded their Congress whose main agenda item was to elect the region’s three additional members to the newly established FIFA Council. The only vote taken that day was 42-1 against continuing with the published agenda. Infantino was in the room for FIFA put-down over what the AFC members felt was unnecessary political involvement in their affairs.
Since then FIFA has been viewed with suspicion within the region (and wider) as it used its development money to win favour with AFC national federations, usually without consideration or consultation with the regional body. However the Asians have not been so easily split politically, despite the regions own internal factions.
The Zurich meeting, according to insiders, was positive, particularly in terms of aligning development objectives. Salman and AFC general secretary Dato Windsor John took the opportunity to outline the AFC’s plans for a new state-of-the-art training centre which is to be built at Putrajaya, in Malaysia.
An AFC press release said: “The AFC President requested that there be greater co-ordination and co-operation, particularly in the area of development and stressed the need for unified objectives.”
It continued: “In addition, there was discussions around the need to ensure that there is a stronger understanding between FIFA and Confederations for more structured programmes which will lead to the avoidance of duplication of resources and efforts.”
With FIFA’s pockets full of money the idea that it is spending for its own political benefit rather than football’s development is still an uncomfortable issue.
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