By James M. Dorsey
Yousuf al Serkal (Source: Gulf News Archive)
Asian Football Confederation (AFC) vice-president Yousuf al-Serkal has put himself forward to replace suspended Qatari national Mohammed bin Hammam as head of the continent’s governing soccer body.
Mr. Bin Hammam remains nominally in charge of the AFC while he launches legal challenges against his lifetime ban from world soccer body FIFA for allegedly buying votes in his failed bid to replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA president.
The AFC has delayed filling the presidency while the appeals continue, but United Arab Emirates official Mr. Al-Serkal, widely viewed as an associate of Mr. Bin Hammam, says he intends to run for the position.
“Now is the opportunity… I have more to offer Asian football as a president,'' Mr. Al-Serkel told SNTV.
"At the moment, Bin Hammam is busy sorting out the various allegations before him. He has been given a year's time by the AFC to come clean from all the charges made against him. If he proves 100 per cent that he is not guilty then he will take over his post at the AFC. If not, then I am only too willing to formally announce my intentions of contesting for the AFC President's post," Mr. Al Serkal said in a separate interview with the Gulf News.
Mr. Al-Serkal asserted that had the support of members of the executive committee of the AFC. “This makes things a lot easier for me," Mr. Al-Serkal said.
Acting AFC president Zhang Jilong of China is also expected to be a candidate to succeed Mr. Bin Hammam as is Japan’s Kohzo Tashima, who is reported to want to run for the job despite the fact that he enjoys little support in the region.
Perhaps the most controversial potential contender is Bahrain Football Association (BFA) president Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, whose candidacy could put the AFC and FIFA in a difficult position.
Sheikh Khalifa’s election is likely to meet with a mixed reaction from Arab and Iranian football fans. The BFA has denied that Bahraini national soccer team players as well as soccer and other sports executives were penalized or disciplined for their participation in anti-government demonstrations earlier this year despite solid evidence to the contrary. Sheilk Khalifa’s election would be seen as FIFA and the AFC endorsing the BFA’s involvement in the crackdown on anti-government protesters.
That may be a controversy neither the AFC nor FIFA wants at a moment that FIFA is embroiled in the worst corruption scandal in its 107-year history and Asia together with Europe is coping with match-fixing scandals in South Korea, Turkey and Finland linked to illegal betting in Southeast Asia.
Former AFC secretary general Peter Velappan said in an interview earlier this month that
Mr. Al Serkal as head of the AFC’s competition committee had backed Nepal’s successful bid to host the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup despite the fact that an AFC inspection team advised against awarding the tournament to Nepal and in favor of its competitors, Palestine and the Maldives. The Nepal soccer association is headed by another Bin Hammam associate, Ganesh Thapa.
The AFC has warned Mr. Manilal that Nepal could lose the hosting of the Cup if it fails to get its facilities into shape. Jordanians who played in Nepal earlier this month described the pitch as a dirt field and the countries facilities as abysmal.
Sources close to the AFC executive committee said that Mr. Thapa moreover as a member of the committee had acted improperly by lobbying the organization to ignore the inspectors’ report and award the hosting of the Cup to his country.
Mr. Manilal is also under investigation by FIFA for potentially having had knowledge of
Mr. Bin Hammam’s alleged bribery of Caribbean soccer officials to ensure their support for his failed FIFA presidential bid. Mr. Manilal was one of several officials who accompanied Mr. Bin Hammam in May to Trindidad & Tobago where he allegedly engaged in the bribery for which he was banned by FIFA.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.