Standing united: Hong Kong chief quashes talk of Fifa ‘rebellion’ after key AFC vote abandoned
Delegates in Goa vote 42-1 against the agenda for the meeting after Qatar Football Association vice president Saoud Al Mohannadi is barred from contesting for a seat on the world governing body’s new council
The decision to call off Tuesday’s Asian Football Confederation’s extraordinary congress in India after just 27 minutes ahead of a key Fifa Council vote was not a “rebellion” against the world governing body but a matter of process, according to Hong Kong Football Association chief executive Mark Sutcliffe.
Delegates in Goa voted 42-1 against the agenda for the meeting – only Singapore voted in favour out of the 44 members eligible – after Qatar Football Association vice president Saoud Al Mohannadi was barred from the vote to elect three new members to the world body’s new powerful 36-member council just 24 hours beforehand.
Al Mohannadi had initially been cleared to stand alongside Zhang Jian of China, Iran’s Ali Kafashian Naeni and Zainudin Nordin of Singapore for two of the seats.
But Fifa’s ethics committee last month recommended a two-and-a-half-year ban for the senior Qatari official for refusing to cooperate with a corruption investigation and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced late on Sunday that he had been ruled out.
Watch: members vote during the AFC extraordinary congress
“This is not about a particular individual, but more about following correct electoral process,” said Sutcliffe from Goa, having attended the congress with Hong Kong Football Association president Timothy Fok Tsun-ting and general secretary Vincent Yuen Mun-chuen.
“Fifa confirmed the eligibility of all candidates months ago and then said that a candidate can’t stand less than 24 hours before the election. The independent Fifa ethics committee only made a recommendation about Al Mohannadi at this stage.
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“As you would expect there has been informal discussion over the past few days, but nothing orchestrated as far as I’m aware.
“The view is that this issue should have been resolved ages ago and not on the eve of the congress.”
Fifa has not revealed the subject of the corruption inquiry involving Al Mohannadi, but it is not connected with allegations related to the 2022 World Cup, which will be hosted by Qatar.
New Fifa president Gianni Infantino, who has led a raft of reforms of the scandal-hit world governing body since beating AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa in February’s vote, was on hand to witness the developments.
“I think it will show the world that Asian football is united and keen to ensure fair play,” said Sutcliffe.
“The AFC unanimously approved the Fifa reforms and is behind Fifa in transforming football governance.
“I know the media might want to portray this as some sort of rebellion, but that’s not how I see it.”
The new Fifa Council had been set up earlier this year under anti-corruption reforms orchestrated by Infantino after former president Sepp Blatter was banned from football for six years due to ethics violations, while former secretary general Jerome Valcke was banned for 10 years over misconduct regarding television deals and 2014 World Cup ticket sales.
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Australian Moya Dodd had been favourite to beat Mahfuza Ahkter of Bangladesh and North Korea’s Han Un-gyong for the AFC’s designated female representative on the new council.
“Mr president I am sure that this is the shortest congress you have witnessed for some time,” said Sheikh Salman after the confirmation of the vote had been greeted by a round of applause from the delegates.
— The-AFC.com (@theafcdotcom) September 27, 2016
“It has been an eventful morning and I am sure it has been an eventful last few days as well, but I think the message is clear to us all.”
Sheikh Salman was clearly reading from a prepared statement, suggesting the result of the vote was expected, with the statement from the president distributed by the AFC slightly differing from the actual words he used to close the congress.
Sheikh Salman later thanked the delegates for “sending out such a strong message that we stand united”.
“Today the AFC and Asian football has shown solidarity,” he said. “The message has been clear to everyone both inside and outside Asia. Football in Asia is united and that is down to you – the members.”
Chinese Football Association vice president and secretary general Zhang was later co-opted to the AFC executive committee until the next extraordinary congress following an emergency meeting.
“They [the issues] must be resolved before the next congress,” said Sutcliffe.
“We don’t know when or where that will be yet, but there are statutes that govern the organisation of Congress. I would expect one before Christmas.”
AFC general secretary Windsor John said 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.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Reuters