Zhang: “This is the time to show the world that Asian football is united and will weather this storm.” (Getty)

(WFI) Mohamed Bin Hammam’s fight to keep a grip on the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation appears to be over. The AFC executive committee today agreed to hold an extraordinary congress next year to appoint a new president.

“The members were informed that the legal committee is in agreement that an Extraordinary Congress for the election of president may be convened in the event that the office of president falls vacant for more than one year,” an AFC statement said.

“This means that an Extraordinary Congress for this purpose could not be convened until after 30 May, 2012.”

Bin Hammam was provisionally suspended by FIFA’s ethics committee on May 29 over allegations that he attempted to pay a total of $1 million in bribes to Caribbean Football Union members in exchange for pro-Qatari votes during his FIFA presidential campaign. He denies any wrongdoing, but last Saturday he was banned from football for life by the ethics panel.

It’s highly unlikely that the 62-year-old’s appeal to FIFA and a subsequent appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport will be over for at least a year, paving the way for the appointment of Bin Hammam’s successor soon after May 30.

There was no media access to Friday’s AFC executive committee and no press conference to announce the outcomes of its discussions.

An AFC source told INSIDER that Bin Hammam’s case was discussed and the meeting was “very productive”, adding that “everybody was united”.

AFC legal committee member Robert Torres updated his colleagues on the FIFA Ethics Committee’s bribery probe and the decision to hand down a lifetime ban to Bin Hammam.

Earlier this week the Qatari wrote to the 46 members of the Asian Football Confederation in a desperate plea for their support. He said he would not resign his presidency. “I am appealing for your understanding and appreciation for my cause and reasons and looking for your support to me until I prove my innocence,” he wrote.

The 19-member AFC have clearly rejected that plea in setting the timetable for the election of a new president.

The AFC’s decision to convene an extraordinary congress to appoint a
new leader, a move predicted by INSIDER earlier this week, fires the
starting gun on campaigning among candidates vying to replace Bin
Hammam.

Acting confederation president Zhang Jilong is not seen as the
favourite to get the job. INSIDER has been told that Bahrain’s Sheikh
Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa is the strongest candidate.

Chaired by Zhang, the AFC Ex-Co sought to send out a strong message of solidarity to the football world. “The guardians of Asian football pledged in one voice to work towards promoting the game and safeguarding its interests,” the AFC statement said.

He called for unity to face the current challenges confronting the Asian game.

“Today I will address you not only as the acting president of AFC and the chairman of this executive committee but also as a very concerned fan and supporter of Asian football,” Zhang said.

“Football is the No 1 sport in Asia. It is followed by millions of people and today everybody is looking to us for leadership and assurance. Our fans and sponsors want to be reassured that Asian football will not be affected by this great misfortune, and that the ‘Future is indeed Asia’.

“This is the time to show the world that Asian football is united and will weather this storm.”

Zhang was unanimously nominated by the committee for the FIFA Executive Committee seat from Asia, which is currently vacant, to become an acting FIFA Ex-Co member.  AFC general secretary Alex Soosay’s re-appointment for the 2011-2015 term was unanimously approved by the committee.

Fighting corruption is the biggest challenge facing Asian football bosses following match-fixing scandals in South Korea’s K-League and in China.

The AFC Ex-Co approved the formation of an ad-hoc evaluation committee to assess the current situation and advise and guide Zhang in the business of the confederation. It’s particular focus is on tackling corruption, improve the AFC administration and promoting financial transparency.

Also announced today was that a joint AFC-FIFA Taskforce will be set up to proactively tackle match-fixing. FIFA is considering opening a temporary security office in Bangkok, Thailand next year to deal with Asian football issues.

In May, Fifa and Interpol announced a $20 million, 10-year programme to crack down on match-fixing in Asia. A dedicated FIFA anti-corruption unit is being set up within the Interpol Global Complex in Singapore.

The confederation’s marketing and technical committees also reported the details of their meetings held yesterday.
Jilong urged the technical committee to make efforts to reduce the gulf in footballing standards between Asia and other continents.

“In the next four-year period, our work should be focused on how to raise our standard of football so that we can reduce the gap between advanced continents,” he said.

A new approach will focus on grassroots development, youth development, coach education development, and a ‘Victory 2022’ project for national teams bidding to reach and do well at the Qatar World Cup.

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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