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Asian congress scrapped after FIFA protest vote

Panaji (India) (AFP) – An Asian football congress was scrapped after just 20 minutes on Tuesday as members rejected its agenda in protest at FIFA barring a Qatari official from elections to its powerful new council.

Asian Football Confederation (AFC) delegates flew from all over the region to a luxury hotel in Goa, India to elect three new members to the FIFA Council, only for the extraordinary congress to be declared closed after just 20 minutes.

The 42-1 vote against adopting the congress’s agenda will be seen as a rebuke to FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who was among those present at the short-lived gathering.

“This has been an eventful morning — and an eventful few weeks,” said AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, who stood against Infantino in FIFA polls in February.

“But the congress has spoken with one voice and that has been clear for us all to see. 

“FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, I am not sure if you have been at a shorter congress but I think you can see the strength of opinion in the room.”

Various delegates told AFP that the agenda was rejected because a senior official from Qatar, hosts of the 2022 World Cup, had been barred from standing for the FIFA Council.

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 of the process by FIFA.

FIFA has not revealed the subject of the corruption inquiry, but it is not connected with allegations related to Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup.

– ‘Clear message’ –

“Today the AFC and Asian football has shown solidarity and unity. The message has been clear to everyone both inside and outside Asia,” Sheikh Salman told an executive committee meeting, according to an AFC statement. 

“Football in Asia is united and that is down to you — the members — and I thank you for sending out such a strong message that we stand united.”

According to officials, it will be months before another congress is held, with the AFC needing to give at least 30 days’ notice and FIFA also taking up to four months to approve candidates.

AFC general secretary Windsor John told reporters that postponing the congress “was a clear message with one voice”.

“The executive committee just decided that we will convene a new extraordinary congress after we have checked all the timelines with FIFA and with our statutes,” he said.

Six candidates from Asia, including China and North Korea, were standing for three seats on the FIFA Council, which was set up under anti-corruption reforms earlier this year in a bid for greater transparency.

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.

Praful Patel, president of the All India Football Federation, said he wished the election had been handled differently.

“It was not the right way to go about things. I wish this process had been done much earlier,” he 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.

FIFA boss Infantino has promised a clean-up of FIFA after a series of corruption scandals and bribery allegations plunged the body into crisis and left senior officials including ex-president Sepp Blatter banned from football.

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