Something of a side-show at Thursday’s AFC Congress in Bahrain was the fact that the only candidate in the upcoming FIFA presidential election who was able address the congregation was current incumbent Sepp Blatter, who had the best part of 25 minutes at the podium.
Following the congress, two of Blatter’s rivals for the presidency spoke of their disappointment at not being able to greet the movers-and-shakers of the Asian game.
“I asked, obviously, to address the congress,” Jordanian Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein said. “But I would have liked all three candidates also to be given the chance.
“In UEFA, for example, I was given the floor even though I’m not from that confederation. So I wouldn’t have accepted to take the floor if the other two candidates didn’t do so as well. It’s a matter of respect.”
Portugal legend Luis Figo also has his hat in the ring for FIFA’s top job, and was bemused as to why he hadn’t been given the opportunity to say a few words.
“I don’t understand, really, why not,” the former Barcelona and Real Madrid star said. “Of course this is an individual congress of a federation, but I don’t see any kind of problem to speak, to address, we are in a democracy so I don’t really understand why not. Because if you are here attending the congress for five or six hours give us five, ten minutes. I think it is not a big deal, no?”
South Korean delegate Chung Mong-gyu also expressed frustration during the congress, voicing his displeasure at a change to AFC statutes which altered the way the vote to decide the AFC’s FIFA ExCo members would be conducted.
After a brief pause in proceedings as Chung discussed the issue with AFC president Shaikh Salman – who was re-elected unopposed – and AFC general secretary Dato’ Alex Soosay, the dissenter was told he should have submitted a written request in advance.
“We could open the floor, but if we let the Korean FA talk then 10 other member associations will also want to talk” Shaikh Salman offered by way of explanation. “We need discipline and understanding. We need solidarity.”
“My position always is that all institutions should be transparent and democratic,” Prince Ali said of the scene. “That’s all I have to say.”
Figo, meanwhile, was keen to dwell on the word democracy.
“Well, it’s a beautiful word. I think it’s a beautiful word that I hear so many times in the congress but you have to put it [into practice].
“Most of the people too are not well-informed regarding the solidarity – another word that I’ve been hearing so much during this process. Solidarity, what is solidarity, I ask? Solidarity is to be sitting on 1.5 billion Euros, and when I hear people that have problems with transportation, I don’t think that is solidarity. That kind of thing is easy to say, but sometimes it’s difficult to do something regarding it.”
There are suggestions that of the three challengers to Blatter’s throne – Prince Ali, Figo and Dutch Football Association chairman Michael van Praag – only one will ultimately run so as to stand a better chance of defeating the Swiss who has been in charge at FIFA since 1998.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Figo said of the matter. “You know in this world everything can happen and I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
“I always say it’s not a question of me, it’s not a question of Luis Figo – if he’s going to be the president or not. It’s the question of the moment of the organization, it’s a question of the future of football and it doesn’t matter if the people think I have good ideas and I’m young. I just laugh when I hear that because it looks like you have to be 60, 70, or whatever to be president of FIFA.
“But I think if you are in the same position it’s because we think something has to change in FIFA.”