x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Yousuf Al Serkal says he has the votes to be next AFC president

UAE Football Association president Yousuf Al Serkal is convinced he has garnered enough support to be installed as president of the Asian Football Confederation at next month's elections. John McAuley reports.

Yousef Al Serkal, President of the UAE Football Association and Vice President of the Asian Football Confederation, believes he has the votes to be the next president of the AFC.
Yousef Al Serkal, President of the UAE Football Association and Vice President of the Asian Football Confederation, believes he has the votes to be the next president of the AFC.

DUBAI // Yousuf Al Serkal is convinced he has garnered enough support to be installed as president of the Asian Football Confederation at next month's elections.

Al Serkal, the president of the UAE Football Association, is currently one of three nominees from the region seeking to replace Zhang Jilong, the acting president of the AFC since Mohamed bin Hammam's removal two years ago.

The Emirati is in competition with Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa and Saudi Arabia’s Hafez Al Medlej, although the latter is expected to rescind his application in favour of backing Al Serkal. Worawi Makudi of Thailand is also in the running for the May 2 vote.

Al Serkal, speaking in Dubai at the launch of his election manifesto, confirmed his confidence in being elected president of the 47-member association, while he also outlined his policies to “clean up” Asian football.

“I know from my experience that I will win,” said Al Serkal, who since 1994 has held various positions within the AFC. “I’m sure about that, not only by promises but by my old and new contacts within the football federations.

“I have always been in contact with them throughout my service with AFC, so I know the people who are talking to me and I know if they mean it or not. I’m confident that, whoever has promised me, they meant it… the majority are supporting me.”

Al Serkal, whose six campaign pledges include improved governance and transparency and balancing revenue distribution, also insisted his long-term friendship with Bin Hammam, the Qatari banned for life by Fifa for “conflicts of interest” during his time as AFC president, should not taint his candidacy.

“Yes, I am a close friend of Bin Hammam, but that friendship had nothing to do with the work we used to do. I always had different ideas, opinions and conflict within the meetings with Bin Hammam.

“When I had a different opinion, I always raised it, which did not please him. But that’s how I am; I keep friendship separate from work.”

Last month, Al Serkal travelled to Zurich to meet with Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president.

Blatter has refused to endorse a particular candidate, but Al Serkal hinted the Swiss does indeed favour his bid.

“We have to respect Mr Blatter’s position as president of Fifa,” Al Serkal said. “If I was in his position, I wouldn’t come out and openly say I’m supporting so-and-so.

“But I was looking forward for his blessing, which I definitely felt I have. My discussion with him was very open. I left Fifa with much more comfort than when I entered.”

Should he be elected, Al Serkal guarantees a more open and more accountable association, something he understands is necessary following the political infighting and corruption that has long been associated with the AFC.

“We’re at a time when our stakeholders believe that leaders in the game are only in it for themselves,” he said of his promise to reunite the confederation. “This must change. I want to see an AFC where football is the first and only topic on our agenda.”

Al Serkal did, however, criticise the Olympic Council of Asia for allegedly interfering in next month’s vote.

The OCA, run by Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmed Al Fahad Al Sabah, has openly endorsed Sheikh Salman for the presidency, and Al Serkal said: “They’re trying hard to influence the voting, but I believe the family of football will try to be independent.

“If it was only Sheikh Ahmed himself 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.”

Meanwhile, Al Serkal said he would back a move to switch the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar from summer to winter. He reiterated the UAE’s support for the Qatari Football Federation in hosting the tournament, and said the Emirates would offer whatever assistance needed by their Gulf neighbours.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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