SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Asia football chief Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa congratulated FIFA president Sepp Blatter on his re-election for a fifth term — a victory the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) played a major role in delivering.
The AFC leadership’s staunch support for Blatter was reiterated on the eve of the contest by Al Khalifa’s patron, Olympic Council of Asia chief Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, despite the only other candidate being from Jordan.
With Australia the only public dissenters in the Asian bloc, Blatter duly romped to victory over Prince Ali bin Al Hussein despite the corruption allegations which have again engulfed soccer’s world governing body this week.
“On behalf of myself, the AFC and the whole Asian football family, I would like to congratulate Joseph S. Blatter on his re-election as FIFA President,” Bahraini Al Khalifa said in a statement on Saturday.
“The AFC has always supported the FIFA President and we are happy to continue working with him and FIFA to further develop Asian and world football into the future.”
Blatter and his mentor and predecessor as president, the now disgraced Brazilian Joao Havelange, have ruled FIFA for four decades on the back of a powerbase they built by expanding membership away from the game’s traditional heartlands.
Only 98 countries participated in the qualifying for the World Cup in 1974, the year Havelange embarked on his first term, while 207 teams took part in qualifying for last year’s finals in Brazil.
The Asia and Oceania regions combined sent just one team, Australia, to the 1974 finals in Germany but last year there were four spots for Asia alone and they could have had a fifth had Jordan beaten Uruguay in a playoff.
The granting of extra World Cup spots, or the threat of their withdrawal, is only part of the patronage available to FIFA leaders.
Havelange and Blatter have also successfully exploited resentment, particularly in Africa and Asia, at the perceived arrogance of the countries where the game first flourished in Europe and South America.
Australia, still fuming that their bid for the 2022 World Cup won just one vote as Qatar was controversially awarded the tournament, earlier on Saturday issued their own statement expressing their disappointment at Blatter’s re-election.
“It is a democracy and Mr Blatter was duly elected,” Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy said in a statement.
“The vote secured by Prince Ali was not insignificant and reflects a belief within FIFA and the world football community that governance and other reforms need to be implemented as soon as possible.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by John O'Brien