AFC delays decision on election

Updated: July 29, 2011, 9:56 AM ET
Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Banned FIFA executive Mohamed bin Hammam is hanging on to the Asian Football Confederation presidency by a thread after the regional body opted against convening an extraordinary congress to replace him before May.

The committee met Friday to consider immediately replacing bin Hammam -- who was banned for life last weekend by soccer's world governing body amid a bribery scandal -- or agreeing to his request to wait for the outcome of appeals.

China's Zhang Jilong, who has been acting AFC president since bin Hammam was suspended last month, urged members to "join hands and face the current challenges that are confronting the Asian game like a concerned and united family."

The 19 delegates who met Friday agreed to form a committee to "assess the current situation and advise and guide the AFC acting president in the business of the confederation," but no date was set to establish the ad-hoc committee.

Under AFC statutes, which allow the position of president to be vacant for only one year, an extraordinary congress and election must be held if bin Hammam's appeals aren't resolved by May 29, 2012.

But the executive committee had the option of voting for immediate action under a separate article of the AFC statutes, which allows it to convene an extraordinary congress "whenever deemed necessary."

Despite Friday's delay tactics, the Asian member associations still can have a say. The executive committee is obliged to set a time and date for an extraordinary congress within 60 days of receiving a particular request from one-third -- or 16 -- of the 46 member associations.

Media was warned in advance that AFC headquarters would be off limits during Friday's meeting, apparently for security reasons. Up to a dozen reporters tried to gain access but were turned away at the gate.

The AFC also declined interview requests from The Associated Press for Zhang and other executive committee members, saying the only comments from the meeting were contained in an official statement.

Bin Hammam had written to the confederation's 46 member associations Monday to seek understanding, patience and support as he prepares to appeal. He denies giving cash to Caribbean officials in exchange for supporting his bid to become FIFA president and contends that the allegations were made because he was a threat to Sepp Blatter's re-election.

In what the AFC described as a "stirring opening address," Zhang was quoted as saying: "This is the time to show the world that Asian football is united and will weather this storm. The AFC Statutes will be my guide."

No specific references to bin Hammam or his ban were made in the statement, which outlined that the executive committee approved the formation of an ad-hoc evaluation committee to "assess the current situation and advise and guide the AFC acting president in the business of the confederation."

Zhang was formally nominated for the FIFA executive committee seat from Asia left vacant by bin Hammam's ban -- as an acting FIFA executive committee member.

The decision to delay any moves to replace bin Hammam followed comments earlier in the week from FIFA vice president Prince Ali Al Hussein of Jordan, who urged the AFC not to leave the presidency unresolved.

"Mr. Bin Hammam has the right to appeal and that is his own personal decision and we respect that," Prince Ali told The AP in an email. "However, it would be unacceptable for anyone to try and drag AFC and Asian football into any process through irresponsible action. I certainly will not accept that."

Zhang's only previous comment in the wake of bin Hammam's ban also came in a statement on Sunday when he said: "AFC respects FIFA's decision and we also acknowledge former AFC president Mohamed bin Hammam's inalienable right to lodge an appeal against the decision."

Bin Hammam has denied all charges and said he has "all the right to fight against this shameful decision until I clear my name."

He became the most senior official found guilty of corruption in FIFA's 107-year history after an ethics panel ruled following a two-day hearing that the he had conspired to pay Caribbean officials $40,000 cash bribes in May for their support in the election.

FIFA also suspended two Caribbean Football Union staffers for one year for their part in distributing the bribes at a May 10-11 conference in Trinidad.

Bin Hammam is the third serving FIFA executive committee member banned from soccer for ethics violations in nine months. A fourth, FIFA vice president Jack Warner, dodged the panel's judgment by resigning from all of his soccer positions last month before answering charges about his part in the bribery plot that led to bin Hammam's downfall.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press