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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bahraini emerges as frontrunner to succeed Bin Hammam as AFC chief

Bahrain Football Association President Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, center, arrives at the 23rd AFC Congress Gala Dinner at a hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur. (File Photo)

Bahrain Football Association President Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, center, arrives at the 23rd AFC Congress Gala Dinner at a hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur. (File Photo)
Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, president of the Bahraini Football Association has emerged as the leading contender to succeed disgraced Qatari national Mohammed Bin Hammam as head of the powerful Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

Quoting Japanese and Korean soccer officials, World Football Insider reported that Mr. Bin Hammam, who was suspended by world soccer body FIFA because of an alleged attempt to bribe Caribbean soccer officials to win their support his bid for the FIFA presidency, is widely viewed as no longer having a future in Asian soccer.

Mr. Bin Hammam campaigned to defeat long-serving FIFA president Sepp Blatter in the organization’s presidential election early this month, but withdrew his candidacy hours before he was suspended.

Mr. Bin Hammam, who was also closely associated with Qatar’s controversial winning of the right to host the 2022 World Cup, has denied the charges that he had sought to buy votes at a meeting of Caribbean Football Union (CFU) executives in Trinidad in May. He has also denied allegations that Qatar bribed two FIFA executive committees as part of its successful bid to host the World Cup in eleven years’ time.

The Asian soccer officials said the campaign to succeed Mr. Bin Hammam as head of the AFC had already begun. They said the AFC’s acting president Zhang Jilong, a Chinese national who took over temporarily after Mr. Bin Hammam’s suspension, was not among the favorites to succeed the embattled Qatari.

Sheikh Salman’s candidacy is strengthened by the fact that the non-Middle Eastern soccer federations that belong to the AFC are divided about who they should support as Mr. Bin Hammam’s successor.

Sheikh Salman “has already been campaigning in West Asia and already has significant support for any forthcoming election. He has the money and the contacts to mount a serious challenge,” World Football Insider quoted an anonymous source as saying.

Sheikh Salman launched a failed challenge in 2009 to replace Mr. Bin Hammam on FIFA’s executive committee. The Qatari defeated the Bahraini by two votes in a bitter election campaign.

At the time, Sheikh Salman’s bid was supported by Korea and Japan. This time round the two are expected to back the general secretary of the Japanese Football Association, Kohzo Tashima, who is AFC executive committee member. Mr. Tashima chances are limited because of Japan’s troubled relations with the AFC.

Unlike Jack Warner, the head of North American and Caribbean soccer, who was suspended together with Mr. Hammam and resigned this week as FIFA vice president, Mr. Bin Hammam appears determined to fight the corruption charges. A FIFA investigation is expected to announce results in July.

Mr. Bin Hammam is nonetheless under pressure to follow Mr. Warner’s example.

Former AFC general secretary Peter Velappan called this week in an interview with Associated Press on Tuesday for Mr. Bin Hammam to step down as the head of the Asian soccer body.

“He should just resign because of the allegations. It would be good for football. This has been going on for so many years. He should follow Warner, strike a deal with FIFA and say goodbye,” Mr. Velappan said.

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