By Paul Nicholson and Andrew Warshaw
Published on Monday, 04 March 2013 12:53
March 4 - One of the three west Asian candidates seeking to replace Mohamed bin Hammam and run football in the entire Continent until 2015 has urged his two rivals to step aside to avoid a potentially damaging split.
As the Asian Football Confederation announced a four-man race for the presidency on May 2, Yousuf al Serkel (pictured), of United Arab Emirates, said he is to ask the two other regional candidates bidding against him to stand down.
Al Serkal, running against Bahrain Football Association president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Khalifa and Saudi Arabian official Hafiz El Medlej, maintains that he has 70% of the west Asian votes but knows that having all 13 votes of the West Asian Football Federation would be a better starting point.
Al Serkal is seeking much-needed solidarity in the region and wants to ensure the presidency is not handed by default to Thailand's controversial FIFA executive committee member Worawi Makudi, the fourth contender who will start with 12 votes from the south east Asian region. There are 47 voting federations in total.
With lobbying expected to be fierce for the next two months, all three west Asian contenders - along with the 13 WAFF members - have been summoned to Jordan this week to meet Asia's FIFA vice-president Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, who wants to ensure that their candidacies are based on strong football manifestos rather than politicking.
Prince Ali has said that he will not choose his own preferred candidate from this meeting and there has been no suggestion of him encouraging any of them to withdraw.
Although Prince Ali insists Thursday's summit is not about one-candidate consensus, Al Serkal said: "I am hoping that if this meeting takes place, we can come up with a decision of fielding one contestant rather than three."
It's easy to see why. Makudi, who has already been campaigning hard in South Asia, will start as likely favourite if all the west Asian candidates continue right up to the election in early May in Kuala Lumpur. "From our zone if we have just one contestant that will be good," said Al Serkal. "It will be a good start for two candidates to the post. But with my relationship in different zones of Asia I can still win otherwise."
Al Serkal has been a football administrator for more than 20 years and feels that what is needed now is a proper football person in the position. "I have served the AFC for 20 years now, It needs a person who has the experience," he said.
Jilong Zhang, the Chinese administrator who has been running Asian football for almost two years since bin Hamman was forced out over a series of high-profile corruption cases, explained for the first time why he decided not to run for office full-time. "I made this decision totally out of my own will and with careful thinking," said Zhang, denying suggestions that he was forced out by Makudi supporters. "I am happy that I did my part to maintain the stability of AFC and my job has been done. It is time to elect a new leader for AFC."
As the tactical jostling got under way, Al Serkal said he was disappointed Zhang had withdrawn. "I was hoping that Mr Zhang would continue in the race," he said. "It is unfortunate to lose such a qualified person. I was hoping that if I am not elected then at least he has the experience. He's also a good person and I am not saying the others are not."
Just as important as the fight for the AFC presidency is the counter-battle for the place on the FIFA executive committee vacated by bin Hammam.
In a clever tactical move, Hassan Al-Thawadi, the public face of Qatar's 2022 World Cup bid, has put his name forward and will go head-to-head with Sheikh Salman who will be desperate to make up for losing out by a mere two votes to bin Hammam in 2009 in a bitter election campaign.
It is just over two years since that momentous December day when Qatar stunned the footballing world by winning the race to stage the 2022 World Cup by a landslide. At virtually every turn since, Al-Thawadi and his team have had to cope with the debate about switching the tournament to winter and about negative reporting over the methods used by the tiny Gulf state to achieve one of the most jaw-dropping results in the history of sports event bidding.
But now, in a stroke of strategic manoeuvring, Al-Thawadi - the razor sharp, canny English and American-educated lawyer - has a golden opportunity to keep Qatar firmly in the spotlight at the top table of FIFA from where he would be able to put a positive spin on his country's 2022 credentials and monitor all the soundings - good and bad - from FIFA's inner circle of powerbrokers.
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