KUALA LUMPUR // When the dust finally settles in the contest for Asian Football Confederation's top post and the new president takes his place at the AFC House here on Thursday, it could be the start of a fresh new battle this time within the corridors of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA).
The OCA have been accused of interfering in the AFC elections and exerting pressure on football federations to vote for Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim of Bahrain in Thursday's elections for the new chief of Asian football.
The OCA president Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad has openly backed Sheikh Salman in the contest and the Insideworldfootball website has claimed OCA officials have travelled with the Bahraini on his campaign visits to Kazakhstan and other countries.
According to the website, pressure from the OCA was also responsible for the acting AFC president Zhang Jilong's decision to opt out of the contest. "It was not a decision that I could make," Zhang told Chinese newspaper Titan Sports in March.
UAE candidate Yousuf Al Serkal, who is locked in a tight battle with Sheikh Salman for the top post, has urged Asian football federations to stand up to the OCA when the 46 member associations vote on Thursday.
"They are trying hard to influence the voting," said Al Serkal, who reached Kuala Lumpur yesterday evening. "If it was only Sheikh Ahmad doing that, on a personal level, it would be OK. Anybody has the right to support one candidate or another, but since it has been done in an official way, that's direct interference.
"We should reject such interference. The rejection should come from the congress and from all the federations. We should all be free to make our own choices.
"It doesn't matter who is the final choice whether it's me, whether it's Dr Hafez [Al Medlej], whether it's Salman. We will all respect the final choice of the congress, but what we resist and resent is the influence that is being exerted on us.
"We should be free to make our choices. We are all mature - matured in age, matured in experience - and we don't need anyone to tell us, or direct us, on which way we go."
Al Medlej, chairman of the AFC marketing committee who is now contesting for the presidency, has also rejected the OCA's involvement in the elections, where Thailand's Worawi Makudi is the fourth candidate. He warned the battle could shift to Sheikh Ahmad's own turf in the near future.
Sheikh Ahmad has been the president of the OCA since 1991 and was re-elected for his sixth consecutive term in 2011. The next OCA elections are scheduled for 2015 and Al Medlej has promised the Kuwaiti will be facing a strong opponent at the ballots.
"We usually leave the OCA to Sheikh Ahmad and nobody has been competing against him," said Al Medlej, reiterating his promise to withdraw from the race "over the next couple of days" if Al Serkal and Sheikh Salman decide to continue. "We give [Sheikh Ahmad] all our support, but he keeps interfering in the AFC.
"We have an Arabic saying that, 'Do unto others what you would have them done to you.' So if he is interfering in our business, I think somebody will interfere in his business very soon."
Asked if that somebody could be him, the Saudi replied: "No, the Olympics is not my cup of tea, but we are preparing a great candidate for that post in the future."
Sheikh Ahmad's decision to publicly back Sheikh Salman has also divided the Kuwait football fraternity, and Asad Taqi, a former senior president of the AFC, has thrown his support behind Al Serkal.
"I believe this is wrong and a stupid mistake," Taqi, a former president of Kuwait Football Association, said here yesterday. "I don't think the OCA should interfere in such a way.
"There have been press releases from Sheikh Ahmad supporting Sheikh Salman and the respect of borders between sports organisations have not been taken into consideration.
"The OCA is getting involved in the AFC elections for the second time. After the first time, people tried to forget about it, but after this second time, some big people in Asia, I know, are thinking about challenging the OCA. This is what I have heard."
Taqi is not representing the Kuwait FA in Kuala Lumpur, but he believes he could help Al Serkal's campaign through the goodwill he has earned in his 25 years at the AFC.
"Al Serkal asked me to advise him and I am proud to do that, because I have spent 25 years in the AFC and I know what's going on better than some intruders.
"Also, the other candidate [Sheikh Salman] is being supported by Sheikh Ahmad, who is a Kuwaiti like me. So I wanted to give a good image of Kuwait by showing that not all Kuwaitis are with Sheikh Salman against Al Serkal.
"I am here now and I believe I still have some reputation left in Asia, which could be good [for Al Serkal]."
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