Prince Ali says Zhang Jilong is “doing a very good job’ as acting president of the AFC (Getty)

(WFI) FIFA vice president Prince Ali bin Al Hussein has given acting Asian Football Confederation chief Zhang Jilong a boost in his bid to land the job on a permanent basis.

Speaking to reporters in London ahead of Saturday’s meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB), Prince Ali expressed satisfaction with how the AFC was currently being run by Zhang, who took on the role after Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam was banned from football by FIFA last summer following an investigation into bribery allegations.

Asked if he would support Zhang’s candidacy, the Jordanian Prince said: “He is doing a very good job. If he chooses to run then it’s up to him, but I will wait and see and judge people on their programmes and performance.”

In further compliments, he added: “I would like to stress that the AFC is functioning; and it’s working very well, and I am very happy with the leadership with the acting president at the moment and the executive committee is doing a very good job. There is a lot going on.”

Zhang said last month that he was ready and willing to take complete charge of the confederation. Other candidates in the running include Bahrain Football Association president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa and Yousef Al Serkal, from the United Arab Emirates.

Prince Ali added: “There are many candidates who have expressed an interest in running for that position, but as yet we still don’t know when it will take place.

“But what I can say is I will support the candidate not based on geography, not based on politics, not based on regions but based on their programme for taking the AFC into the future.”

Scrap the Hijab Ban, Says Prince

On Saturday, Prince Ali will present a case for Islamic female footballers to be allowed to wear a hijab, or headscarf, in professional matches. Under present FIFA rules they are banned for “safety” reasons.

Part of the AFC’s recent efforts have been to fully support the case for the hijab resolution, which came to the attention of Prince Ali the day after he took office when members of Iran’s women’s team were prevented from playing in a 2012 Olympic qualification match for wearing a headscarf.

In the media roundtable on Thursday, Prince Ali explained in strong terms why IFAB, football’s lawmaking body, should scrap its hijab ban.

“It’s very important. Women’s football has come a long way, as we experienced in the last Women’s World Cup, and the present situation is saying to women worldwide that you’re not allowed to participate for a reason that makes no sense,” he said.

“That’s prejudice. It’s not fair – it has to be dealt with.”

Over the past year, various tests have taken

AFC acting president Zhang Jilong (Getty)

place with a Velcro headscarf being made for use in competitive matches that safely suit the needs of the wearer as well as protecting their “cultural modesty”.

Prince Ali was keen to make the distinction between religious beliefs and culture.

“Long sleeves and leggings are already allowed,” he said. “This is not an issue of religious symbolism, it is simply a case of cultural modesty and I’m tackling this now because it is a big issue for many many women all across the world.”

The headscarf has wide-ranging support from players in the Premier League, to the worldwide players’ union FIFPro who last week said: “Provided the headscarf is safe for all the players on the pitch, FIFPro is of the opinion that women players should be allowed to wear appropriately designed headscarves.”

But it is the support of IFAB who matter when they assess the case at tomorrow’s meeting.

Prince Ali said he had spoken to every other member of the committee but had not gauged how they would vote.

“I’d be very disappointed for the game if IFAB said no. It’s an issue which will not go away. I’m optimistic this will happen. If not there will be a lot of soul-searching about what the priorities are in this sport.”

“Everyone from the UN to the regional federations are supportive so I don’t see what the problem is.”

Goal-line Technology Concerns

Another key issue on the agenda of Saturday’s meeting is the progress report on the first testing phase of goal-line technology which took place late last year. Plans will also be outlined for the next stage of testing that starts this month and ends in June.

Prince Ali said that while he was not an expert on the issue, it was “important” that the debate was taking place, although he raised some concerns.

“What I’m concerned with is that not all countries could afford it. It could provide an advantage to certain teams over others,” he said. “What kind of technology has to be used has to be studied, and not just a matter of opinion.

“It has to be embraced by all confederations and by all experts in the field in those confederations. There’s no rush, I think football can survive and test – it’s a process of evolution.”

The IFAB meeting will take place without UEFA president Michel Platini – a fierce critic of goal-line technology – because of a family bereavement, European football’s governing body has confirmed.

By INSIDER’s Christian Radnedge

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