x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 August 2017

Saudi candidate vows to step aside if he cannot be peacemaker in AFC elections

Hafez Al Medlej insists he can still be the consensus candidate from the Gulf in the race to be AFC president next month, but says he will withdraw if no consensus between rivals Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa and UAE FA president Yousuf Al Serkal can be reached.

DUBAI // Hafez Al Medlej is confident he can still succeed in his role of "peacemaker" and emerge as the consensus candidate from the Gulf region for the Asian Football Confederation presidency - but admits he is ready to step aside if that does not happen.

Three of the four candidates in the fray for the AFC presidency - Medlej, UAE Football Association president Yousuf Al Serkal and Bahrain's Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa - are from this region, with Thailand's Worawi Makudi the only non-West Asian contender for the elections on May 2.

Efforts to field a consensus candidate from the region have so far failed and, with the elections just 10 days away, hope of agreement being reached is fading. However Medlej, chairman of the AFC's marketing committee, remains optimistic.

"This competition between Sheikh Salman and Yousuf Al Serkal has been going on for almost two years now and the leaders from the Arab world, not just sports leaders but political leaders, asked Saudi Arabia to put up a candidate to sort out this issue between Al Khalifa and Al Serkal, or we can say the UAE and Bahrain," Medlej said at a press conference.

"If that happens before the elections and they [Al Serkal and Al Khalifa] withdraw to leave only one Arab nominee, I will be there. If they insist on continuing, I will withdraw. But I am not going to withdraw now - I will do that when I am sure that there is no way that they will withdraw.

"I have entered this race as a neutral candidate and I don't want to go against any of my colleagues from the Arabic world."

Medlej also refused to comment about recent allegations of cash-for-vote against Sheikh Salman and the Olympic Council of Asia's efforts to pressurise football federations to vote for the Bahraini.

"Now, everybody is talking about corruption, whether it is Fifa or the AFC," Medlej said.

"But without hard evidence, it is easy to talk. If there is evidence, then nobody is going to allow corruption. Everybody is against it and if there is a war against corruption, I will be the first soldier."

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