The Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) outgoing acting president Zhang Jilong has urged confederation members to restore the “health and glory” of the continental governing body grappling with match-fixing scandals and corruption charges.
The AFC, which has been without a permanent president since Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam was banned for life by FIFA for corruption and bribery, is to elect a new leader on May 2.
On Monday, FIFA executive committee member Vernon Manilal Fernando of Sri Lanka, a close ally of bin Hammam, was banned from any soccer activity for three months, while the apex body examines an alleged misuse of AFC funds.
“The AFC has really suffered in the recent past and it is our duty to restore it back to its health and glory,” China’s Jilong, who held the AFC acting president’s post since May 2011, said in a statement.
“We are the guardians of Asian football and we should be seen as shining examples of honesty, integrity and transparency,” he added.
While corruption remains a major issue in Asian soccer, the menace of match-fixing has also reared its ugly head in Lebanon, South Korea, Malaysia and China, while Indonesian soccer is in turmoil after a rumbling two-year power struggle that shows no sign of abating.
Jilong said he tried his best in his capacity as the caretaker administrator.
“I am really honored that I was entrusted with the caretaker job while the AFC was in its most difficult period,” Jilong said after chairing his last AFC executive committee meeting on Wednesday.
“I am happy that I did my part to maintain the stability of the AFC. I was able to lead successfully, only because of your cooperation and support,” he added.
The AFC executive committee, in its meeting in Kuala Lumpur, also widened its base to include the top 23 countries in its flagship club competition, the Asian Champions League, from next year to 2016. At present, clubs from only 10 countries play in the competition.
The move was welcomed by FIFA vice president and AFC executive committee member Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan.
“I am very pleased and encouraged by the decision taken by the competitions and executive committees to include more countries to participate in the Asian Champions League,” Prince Ali said in a statement late on Wednesday.
“This is truly an important milestone for Asian football development. This new setup more accurately reflects the Asian football spirit, which must always be based on inclusion and integration,” he added.