Asian soccer body scraps 12-year limit for senior officials and lets Sheikh Salman stay beyond 2027

Asian soccer leaders can have unlimited years in power after their governing body voted to scrap a key pillar of reforms passed after the corruption crisis that rocked FIFA in 2015.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar were among four of the 47 Asian Football Confederation members who put the proposal to their annual congress in Bangkok on Thursday. Only Australia and Jordan voted “No.”

The vote win lets AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa seek re-election in 2027 when he had been due to step down after 14 years in office.

Ahead of the vote, the Bahraini royal family member told members of the AFC’s wish to be “a model confederation” in world soccer aligned with FIFA.

Presidential term limits have been pushed in two waves of governance reforms at FIFA in response to bribery and corruption scandals in 2011 and 2015 — Asian soccer was linked to both.

In 2011, then AFC leader Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar was barred from the FIFA presidential election after Caribbean voters were paid $40,000 cash in brown envelopes after a campaign meeting in Trinidad.

In fallout from the 2015 scandal two years later, senior AFC official Richard Lai of Guam pleaded guilty in a federal court in Brooklyn to being part of a bribe-paying scheme that built influence in international soccer. Lai said it was run by a Kuwaiti faction which helped Sheikh Salman win election to succeed Bin Hammam in 2013.

Removing presidents after no more than 12 years were then seen as essential to curb networks of patronage and loyalty that can enable corruption and poor governance.

However, FIFA president Gianni Infantino has been allowed by a subsequent statutes amendment he oversaw to stay in office for 15 years until 2031, and UEFA voted in February to ensure its president Aleksander Čeferin can seek to stay beyond his 11th year in 2027. Čeferin later said he will not stand for re-election.

Even the International Olympic Committee is still weighing a members’ request last October to change legal rules to let their president, Thomas Bach, seek a third election next year. That would go beyond the 12-year limit set after the Salt Lake City bidding corruption scandal 25 years ago.

The AFC has trumped both FIFA and UEFA in removing all barriers to its president and executive committee members staying in place.

It was, the AFC said in a later statement, “another clear signal of our intent to ensure that we remain a model confederation that continues to uphold the highest ethical standards and best governance practices for the future generations of our great game.”

One legal barrier still remains for Sheikh Salman at FIFA. Its statutes currently block him from continuing beyond 2031 as a FIFA vice president and member of its ruling council.


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