Contenders emerge for top position at the AFC

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Contenders emerge for top position at the AFC

SEOUL - The position is not yet vacant, and may not become so, but already the contenders for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) are beginning their undeclared campaigns.

The incumbent, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, is in the race to become head of the world governing body FIFA, and if he succeeds, the AFC job will be available.

Dr. Hafez Al Medlej, a candidate in the 2013 AFC presidential election when Salman was first elected, said it would be a wide-open race.

“Sheikh Salman has a good chance of winning the FIFA election,” Al Medlej told The Associated Press. “As soon as it happens, then the AFC will start moving. When you look at the AFC Executive Committee, then you can see so many candidates.”

According to the Saudi Arabian, the three most likely are Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-sabah from Kuwait, Malaysia’s Tengku Abdullah and Kohzo Tashima of Japan. The trio were elected onto FIFA’s powerful Executive Committee in 2015.

Sheikh Ahmad, president of the Olympic Council of Asia, is a powerful figure in sports politics. His support of Sheikh Salman was crucial as the Bahraini took the AFC presidency and is just as important as he looks toward FIFA.

Abdullah recently resigned as head of the Football Association of Malaysia, ostensibly due to the country’s poor results in qualifications for the 2018 World Cup, though his allies perceived he was giving himself time to concentrate on his AFC and FIFA ambitions.

A key issue in the election will be the master rights deal the AFC signed in 2009 with sports marketing company World Sports Group - now known as Lagardere sports - that runs from 2013 to 2020.

During an audit of the AFC in 2012, published by British newspaper The Sunday Times, consultancy group PricewaterhouseCoopers raised questions about the $1 billion deal and recommended that the AFC seek legal advice on whether it could be renegotiated or even canceled. Sheikh Salman, elected on a promise of transparency, has seemingly done little to act on the issue.

Chung Mong-gyu, the president of the Korea Football Association, could also be a contender.

If Chung stays out of the race, then Tashima, who defeated Chung in the FIFA Executive Committee election in 2015, would almost certainly be East Asia’s only candidate.

Tashima will contest an election in Tokyo on Jan. 31 to become president of the JFA. A defeat at the hands of Hiromi Hara would be a blow to his continental chances. AP

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