Protest vote closes AFC congress in just 20 minutes

afcPANAJI: An Asian football congress to elect representatives to the FIFA Council closed after just 20 minutes on Tuesday after members rejected the agenda in protest at a Qatari official being barred from the poll.

Members voted 42 to one against supporting the agenda at the meeting in India’s Goa, which meant the ballot to elect three new members to the world body’s powerful council was cancelled.

Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa said it was “probably the shortest congress” he had ever chaired.

“It has been an eventful morning and the message is clear to us all. Now my final task is to declare the extraordinary congress closed,” said the Bahraini, before heading into an AFC executive committee committee.

Delegates said the agenda was rejected because a senior Qatari official had been banned from standing just 24 hours before the vote was due to take place.

Scandal-plagued FIFA’s ethics committee last month recommended a two-and-a-half-year ban for Saoud Al-Mohannadi, vice-president of the Qatar Football Association, for refusing to cooperate with a corruption investigation.

Mohannadi denies any wrongdoing and had initially been cleared to stand, before the AFC announced late on Sunday that he’d been ruled out by FIFA.

FIFA has not revealed the subject of the corruption inquiry, but it is not connected with allegations related to the 2022 World Cup, which Qatar will host.

Tuesday’s debacle was witnessed by FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who beat Sheikh Salman to the job in an election in February and who was in Goa for the congress.

“It was not the right way to go about things. I wish this process had been done much earlier,” Praful Patel, president of the All India Football Federation, told AFP.

“It’s only fair that elections take place in a way that is fair and just. When people file nominations I think at that stage it’s better if they know whether they are going to be able to contest or not,” he added.

Corruption scandals

Six candidates from Asia, including China and North Korea, had been due to vie for three seats on the FIFA Council, which was set up under anti-corruption reforms earlier this year.

FIFA’s all-powerful executive committee, which had become the epicentre of corruption at the organisation, was rebranded as the FIFA Council at the body’s congress in Mexico earlier this year.

It is meant to operate in a similar way to a company’s board of directors as part of plans to make FIFA more transparent, including in the awarding of World Cup hosting rights, following a string of corruption scandals.

Three male candidates — Zhang Jian of China, Iran’s Ali Kafashian Naeni and Zainudin Nordin of Singapore — were set to compete for two of the seats in Tuesday’s vote.

Former Australian footballer Moya Dodd was favourite to beat Mahfuza Ahkter of Bangladesh and North Korea’s Han Un-Gyong to be the AFC’s designated female representative.

FIFA boss Infantino is undertaking a clean-up of FIFA after a series of corruption scandals and bribery allegations plunged the body into crisis.

Former president Sepp Blatter is serving a six-year ban from football over ethics violations, while former secretary-general Jerome Valcke was banned for 10 years over misconduct regarding television deals and 2014 World Cup ticket sales.

Allegations of vote-buying have also dogged the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 edition to Qatar.