Controversy and withdrawal on eve of election

Hafez Al Medlej of Saudi Arabia pulls out of race for AFC presidency as FIFA look into actions of former president.

Last Modified: 01 May 2013 13:38
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With two candidates already from the Gulf region, Hafez Al Medlej (R) is a late withdrawal [AFP]

On the eve of Asian football elections, FIFA is looking to see if former president Mohamed bin Hammam breached his life ban by lobbying for his friends against an old rival.

FIFA's expression of 'great concern' in a letter to the Qatar Football Association was published on Wednesday by Kuwaiti officials in an apparent attempt to harm opponents of their favoured candidate, Sheik Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain.

"(The ban) specifically prohibits any member or employee of the football family... to contact or meet with Mr. Bin Hammam,'' FIFA deputy secretary general Markus Kattner wrote to the QFA in a letter dated Tuesday.

"We therefore trust that the Qatar Football Association will ensure to comply fully with the statutes, regulations, directives and decisions of FIFA bodies at any time."

Bin Hammam has reportedly campaigned for Asian Football Confederation presidential candidates Yousuf al-Serkal of the United Arab Emirates and Worawi Makudi of Thailand, and for 2022 World Cup organising head Hassan Al Thawadi of Qatar to join the FIFA executive committee.

They are being challenged in both elections by Sheik Salman, who narrowly lost a bitterly contested election to unseat bin Hammam from the FIFA seat four years ago.


The 46 AFC countries voting Thursday will have one fewer candidate on the ballot.

Late on Wednesday, Hafez Al Medlej of Saudi Arabia withdrew from the presidential race after failing - as expected - to persuade his two Gulf neighbours to stand aside and leave him as a consensus candidate from the region.

"I'm regretting that we couldn't find a solution, and the Arabs always fight among themselves,'' Al Medlej said.

"Now we're having two Arabic candidates in tomorrow's election and I don't like to be part of that problem.''

The new AFC president will complete bin Hammam's original mandate, which runs through 2015. He was unable to fulfill it after twice being banned by FIFA for allegedly bribing Caribbean voters while challenging Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency in 2011 and later for 'conflicts of interest' in his financial management of the confederation.

"Now we're having two Arabic candidates in tomorrow's election and I don't like to be part of that problem"

Saudi Arabia former candidate Hafez Al Medlej

Still, bin Hammam is respected across much of Asian football, which he helped modernise since being elected its leader in 2002.

FIFA reminded the Qatar football body that the ousted official's associates are also prevented from 'indirect interference (by) third-parties' on his behalf in the election.

Blatter is in Kuala Lumpur to attend the election, which all candidates say must help reunite the region after two years of internal turmoil since bin Hammam was exiled.

Another bin Hammam ally, Vernon Manilal Fernando, was removed from football politics this week when FIFA's ethics court imposed an eight-year ban for unspecified unethical behaviour. The Sri Lankan official says he will appeal.

Fernando's suspension leaves Asia one short of its four-seat quota on FIFA's executive committee.

That vacancy could be resolved on Friday when the AFC holds its regularly scheduled annual congress.

Thursday's presidential winner is not assured a seat on FIFA's executive committee, but could take Fernando's place on an interim basis while the promised appeal is pending.


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