The Asian Football Confederation (AFC), acting on advice of its legal committee, has delayed a decision on elections to replace its suspended president, Mohammed Bin Hammam, until May of next year.
The AFC’s 19-member executive committee in a meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Friday was expected to call for elections after world soccer body FIFA last weekend banned the 62-year old Qatari national for life from involvement in soccer because of alleged bribery.
Mr. Bin Hammam has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has vowed to fight the FIFA decision.
Mr. Bin Hammam in a letter to AFC members earlier this week said he would not resign his post as head of the Asian football body as long as he was appealing FIFA’s decision and asked for the AFC’s patience and understanding.
In a statement, acting AFC acting president Zhang Jilong, urged members to “join hands and face the current challenges that are confronting the Asian game like a concerned and united family.”
The AFC said it was establishing a committee to investigate Mr. Bin Hammam’s situation.
AFC’s legal committee advised the executive that the organization would have to hold an extraordinary congress and election if Mr. Bin Hammam’s appeals were not resolved by May 30, 2010. AFC’s statutes allow the position of president to be vacant for up to one year.
The executive committee constitutes a tactical victory for Mr. Bin Hammam, who was initially suspended in late May by FIFA pending the outcome of an investigation. It was that investigation that prompted FIFA’s ethics committee to ban Mr. Bin Hammam last weekend.
The disgraced Qatari national was accused of bribing officials of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) to support his failed FIFA presidential campaign. Mr. Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy hours before he was suspended, paving the way for FIFA president Sepp Blatter to be re-elected unchallenged for a fourth term.
Mr. Bin Hammam has claimed that the bribery charges against him were trumped up to ensure that Mr. Blatter would win the election.
Various AFC executive committee members, including Japan Football Association president and former FIFA executive committee member Junji Ogura and FIFA vice president Prince Ali Al Hussein of Jordan, had urged the group not to delay an election to replace Mr. Bin Hammam.
The AFC has declined to comment on its decision beyond the statement it issued. Reporters were banned from the building where the executive committee was meeting and requests for interviews with Mr. Zhang and other officials were rejected.
Mr. Zhang, in what the AFC described as a “stirring opening address,” said that “this is the time to show the world that Asian football is united and will weather this storm. The AFC Statutes will be my guide.”
The AFC statement made no specific reference to Mr. Bin Hamam but said that an ad-hoc evaluation committee would “assess the current situation and advise and guide the AFC acting president in the business of the confederation.”
Mr. Zhang however was nominated to take Mr. Bin Hammam’s seat in FIFA’s executive committee as an acting member.
Mr. Bin Hammam is the third serving FIFA executive committee member banned from soccer for ethics violations in nine months. A fourth, FIFA vice president Jack Warner, dodged the panel’s judgment by resigning from all of his soccer positions last month before answering charges about his part in the bribery plot that led to Mr. Bin Hammam’s downfall.
The scandal is the worst in FIFA’s 107-year history and has sparked concern among sponsors of the World Cup, the world’s biggest sporting event. Nonetheless, none of the sponsors that include Emirates, Visa, Adidas and Coca-Cola, have indicated that they may withdraw from sponsorship of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
FIFA officials believe that Mr. Blatter’s efforts at reform and the proceedings against Mr. Bin Hammam have convinced sponsors that FIFA is serious about rooting out corruption.
“The code of ethics, and also an ethics committee, have now been able to function efficiently and function independently. That wasn’t the case prior to that,” FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer said in an interview with Bloomberg. Mr. Blazer initially brought the charges against Mr. Bin Hammam that led to his downfall.
(James M. Dorsey, formerly of The Wall Street Journal, is a senior fellow at the Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. He can be reached via email at: email@example.com)