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AFC president Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa delivers a speech during the 33rd Asian Football Confederation Congress at the Gulf Convention Centre in Manama on February 1, 2023. Photo: AFP

Asian Cup 2027 hosts Saudi Arabia have no objection to Russia joining Asian Football Confederation

  • Joining AFC would mean Russia play World Cup qualifiers against Asian teams, and club sides take part in Asian competitions
  • ‘If Fifa and the AFC allow it and there’s a benefit for Asia then I don’t think there’s a problem with that,’ Saudi Arabia’s sports minister says.

After being confirmed as hosts of the 2027 Asian Cup, Saudi Arabia said it would not object to Russia joining the Asian Football Confederation, as Russian officials search for ways to return to international competition.

Russian officials dangled the possibility of a move to Asia in December, following Russia’s ban from international competition by European body Uefa over the invasion of Ukraine.

Although the Russian Football Union later called for a working group on resuming ties with Uefa, Russian Football Union chief Alexander Dyukov did not rule out seeking AFC membership at a later stage.

Speaking at the AFC Congress in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia’s Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal said he did not see a problem with Russia shifting allegiances to Asia.

“If Fifa and the AFC allow it and there’s a benefit for Asia then I don’t think there’s a problem with that,” he said.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino (left) greets AFC President Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa. Photo: AFP

Joining the AFC would mean that Russia would play World Cup qualifiers against Asian teams and that its club sides would take part in Asian competitions.

AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said there had been no formal approach about Russia’s membership.

“If we get something official for the AFC in this regard, then this is another issue, but I will not anticipate events and talk about something that did not happen in the first place,” he told media.

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“We have a good relationship with the Russian federation and with the rest of the European federations, and we are always in contact with the federations on all occasions. We want the best interests of the game as we seek to keep politics away from football.”

Last week, Russian and Belarusian athletes – sidelined from most Olympic sports since the invasion – were invited to compete at this year’s postponed Asian Games, set to be held in China.

The International Olympic Committee also said that allowing Russians and Belarusians to compete at the Paris 2024 Olympics should be “further explored”, ignoring a Ukrainian threat to boycott.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino (centre) at the 33rd Asian Football Confederation Congress. Photo: AFP

Saudi Arabia added to its influence in world football this week, winning a seat on the Fifa Council and then being confirmed as host of the 2027 Asian Cup.

The election win at the Asian Football Confederation’s annual meeting followed Cristiano Ronaldo arrival last month to play in the Saudi league and long-standing speculation about a likely bid to host the World Cup in 2030 or 2034.

Saudi football federation president Yasser Almisehal was among six Asian soccer officials elected by AFC members to represent them on Fifa’s decision-making committee through 2027. Saudi Arabia was the only candidate to host the Asian championship.

Qatari football federation president Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, whose country hosts the next Asian Cup in January 2024, also was elected to the Fifa Council. Sheikh Hamad earned 40 votes from the 45 federations, while Almisehal got 35.

The 37-member Fifa Council is chaired by Gianni Infantino, the governing body’s president who attended the election meeting in Bahrain.

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The election results confirmed Saudi Arabia and Qatar at the heart of Asian football politics with the AFC presidency set to be vacant in 2027.

AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain was reelected by acclamation on Wednesday to a final four-year term in a job he has held since 2013. He is also formally No 2 to Infantino as the most senior of Fifa’s eight vice presidents.

Fifa Council positions – which pay a US$250,000 salary in Zurich – were also won by Kohzo Tashima of Japan and Mariano Araneta of the Philippines, who retained their seats, and newcomer Hamidin Bin Mohd Amin, the Malaysian football federation leader.

Losing candidates were Du Zhaocai of China and Chung Mong-gyu of South Korea, a scion of the family that owns Hyundai and who lost his seat in 2019.

The election for a Fifa Council seat protected for a woman was won by Kanya Keomany of Laos.