Solidarity crucial for Asian football community: AFC chief

Kuala Lumpur, Nov 30: Solidarity is crucial for further development of football in Asia, said Zhang Jilong, acting president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), who took over after its former boss Mohamed Bin Hammam was banned for bribery and corruption.

“I have been pursuing solidarity and development of Asian football in the last two years as acting president,” Zhang told Xinhua Thursday.

The 60-year-old said he was facing with “unprecedented challenge in Asian football history” to create a friendly environment among the Asian football community.

“Or we can put it this way, the biggest difficulty as a caretaker was to win the recognition from the others, including the executive committee members and every member association,” Zhang said.

“After nearly two years, everyone now recognise the necessity of solidarity and the further development of Asian football.”

As an international football veteran, Zhang was elected as AFC vice-president for the first time in 2002 and retained this position in the next two elections.

He is also long-time FIFA member, serving on the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committees.

The former Chinese Football Association official took over as AFC chief in June 2011 after Bin Hammam was banned by FIFA for trying to buy votes during the FIFA presidential race last year.

Zhang has since drawn a clear line with the Qatari by pursuing transparency for the Asian governing body. Looking forward, Zhang said further integration of the Asian football will be his main objective next year.

Despite all his vision and plans for Asian football, the Chinese has fell short in articulating whether he will run the election of new AFC president, which to be held at the end of April 2013.

“It partly depends on whether I have the confidence and capability to handle all the AFC affairs,” he said, stressing the difference between caretaking and running for the election.

Although considered a leading contender for the AFC presidency, Zhang may still face severe challenge from the others, especially those from West Asia.

Zhang also mentioned that he wishes the FIFA World Cup would be won by an Asian national team in the near future. Asian football has made significant progress in recent years.

The Japanese women’s national team won the silver medal at the London Olympics after lifting the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2011. Meanwhile, both the South Korean and Japanese Olympics team made the semifinals in London in men’s football.

“Today, the Asian teams are serious contenders for titles worldwide,” Zhang said at the AFC annual award gala held Thursday.

IANS