November 30 - Reformers within Asian football have been left shocked and disappointed after their campaign to heal deep-rooted rifts and crack down on corruption was dismissed by the Continent's top brass.
In what appeared to be a calculated move not to change the status quo ahead of crucial Presidential elections next spring, the Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) 22-member Executive Committee threw out a proposed ethics Task Force designed to clean up the organisation after months of bitterness and bring about a fresh era of credibility and transparency.
Ever since Mohamed Bin Hammam (pictured top), former AFC President and once the most powerful man in Asian football, was suspended – first in the wake of last year's cash-for-votes scandal, then for alleged misuse of AFC funds – pro and anti-Bin Hammam factions have been engaging in a damaging war of words.
As a result of this and growing concern about the AFC becoming totally dysfunctional, a proposal by the AFC administration was sent by correspondence to the organisation's leadership last month calling for the creation of the four-member Task Force to investigate all future allegations of corruption.
The idea was conceived by the AFC's own administration but was blocked by senior officials when it came to be discussed at yesterday's Executive Committee meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
Instead, insidethegames has learned, it was sent back to the AFC's Legal Committee - chaired by Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat, head of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) who has faced corruption allegations in his own country where he is a Government Minister.
Interestingly, Makhdoom had refused to be deputy of the Task Force when it was first mooted, insisting he would only take part if he could be chairman.
It is understood a series of other proposals were also thrown out: a deliberate move, according to informed sources, not to rock the boat after it was announced that elections to replace Bin Hammam as AFC President would take place in April next year.
Potential candidates to take over from the 63-year-old Qatari - unless he is cleared over ongoing corruption charges and makes a surprise comeback - are expected to include Bahrain Football Association President Sheikh Salman and AFC vice-president Yousuf Al-Serkal from the United Arab Emirates.
After the meeting, an AFC statement praised the "solidarity" of the members for unanimously agreeing to stage next year's AFC Congress in April and hold a number of elections for senior positions, including Bin Hammam's successor and FIFA Executive Committee posts.
Acting AFC President Jilong Zhang of China, who has been in charge since Bin Hammam was suspended and is also a possible contender himself, said he was firmly committed to a new era of transparency.
"Under my caretaker leadership, I promised a new vision for AFC," he said.
"I committed myself to a new era of transparency and I am confident that with your support I will be able to deliver this objective."
But some within the AFC's inner circle are now questioning Zhang's motives as a result of his acquiescence during the Executive Committee meeting.
insidethegames has been told that Zhang, who many have long felt would be ideally placed to lead the reformist agenda, sat on the fence and did not speak up in favour of the Task Force - even though he was one of those who proposed it in the first place.
"The dynamics were completely changed as a result of the election announcement," said one source close to the AFC hierarchy.
"Issues that needed a very open and thorough discussion were simply not debated.
"When you are a candidate for elections, you start thinking about votes.
"The reform agenda becomes less aggressive."
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