Bloomberg News

Asian Soccer-Head Candidate Pledges to Clean Up Body’s Image

April 08, 2013

Yousuf Al Serkal, a candidate to replace the banned head of Asian soccer, today promised to introduce new transparency measures such as publishing his financial benefits if he’s voted into office.

He said he’d also set up a whistle-blower helpline to encourage the exposure of wrongdoing.

Al Serkal, who heads the United Arab Emirates’ federation, is competing with soccer heads of Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain for the Asian Football Confederation post. It will be decided at the 47-member AFC’s extraordinary congress in Kuala Lumpur on May 2.

The election follows the resignation of former AFC President Mohamed Bin Hammam in December. Bin Hammam will never work in soccer again, world global body FIFA said, after an ethics investigation found the Qatari violated its ethics code with alleged conflicts of interest during his time as AFC president and as a member of the FIFA executive committee in 2008-2011. Bin Hammam denied wrongdoing.

“If I am successful, I will lead the way to make the AFC much more transparent with improved governance, in order that we regain the integrity of the game in Asia,” said Al Serkal, who launched his campaign manifesto today. “It is important that I lead by example, and so I will publicly declare all allowances and benefits given to me by the confederation, and expenditure incurred by my office.”

Soccer’s governance has come under scrutiny worldwide in recent times following corruption scandals at global and regional levels.

World Cups

FIFA members will in May vote on whether to adopt a raft of reform programs following allegations of malfeasance against several members of its executive board during the selection process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and also for the organization’s presidency in 2011. Bin Hammam, the sole challenger to President Sepp Blatter, pulled out a day before FIFA started an investigation into claims he attempted to bribe voters in the Caribbean.

Asia has also been the center of match-fixing rings that have attempted to corrupt officials across the world, according to Interpol and Europol. Last week three Lebanese match officials were charged by authorities in Singapore with accepting sexual favors as an inducement to fix a game.

At a meeting with reporters in Dubai following his campaign launch, Al Serkal said if elected he’d make all the AFC’s commercial contracts available for its members to scrutinize and hire auditors to look at current agreements. Last July the AFC said it found irregularities in its finances after accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP carried out a forensic audit of its books.

Report Irregularities

Al Serkal said among the measures he’ll propose would be a whistle-blower helpline to allow “players and officials to report in absolute confidence any irregularities -- whether in match-fixing or any issue relating to football.”

He also pledged to distribute more funds to smaller members of the confederation, a tactic employed by Blatter when he was first elected as FIFA head in 1998. Al Serkal met with Blatter at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich last month, and feels he has the Swiss administrator’s “blessing.”

“I firmly believe that we are at our strongest when all 47 members stand as one,” he said. “So I will appeal to the more economically and technically mature associations to work in solidarity, to ensure greater benefits to the majority of associations.”

Bin Hammam was the most important figure in Asian soccer for almost a decade after being elected AFC president for the first time in 2002. Al Serkal said the two remain friends, and Bin Hammam said in a text message to Bloomberg News that Al Serkal would be his favored candidate.

FIFA Executive

“That friendship had nothing to do with the work that we used to do,” the AFC presidential hopeful said. I always had different ideas and opinions and had conflict with him and raised issues in meeting. I keep friendship separate from work.”

The AFC presidency doesn’t guarantee a position on FIFA’s decision-making executive board, and if Al Serkal wins he’ll be the only head of soccer’s six continental governing bodies not represented on that body.

Bin Hammam’s FIFA seat is being contested in a separate election featuring Qatar World Cup head Hassan Al Thawadi and Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, who is also standing for the AFC presidency along with FIFA executive member Worawi Makudi of Thailand. Hafez Al Medlej, the Saudi candidate for the AFC post, has hinted he may withdraw before the vote.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in London at tpanja@bloomberg.net; Zainab Fattah in Dubai at zfattah@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net.


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