KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Thailand's Worawi Makudi will run against West Asian nominees Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain, Yousef Al Serkal of the United Arab Emirates and Hafez Al Medlej of Saudi Arabia for the vacant position as president of the Asian Football Confederation.
China's Zhang Jilong, who has been acting president since Qatar's Mohamed bin Hammam was suspended by football's world governing body in May 2011, told China's official news agency over the weekend that he would not put himself forward to be president and has declined requests for further comment. The election will be held May 2 in Kuala Lumpur.
"The nominations will now be scrutinized and the list of candidates will be sent to the Member Associations one month prior to the Congress in accordance with the AFC Statutes," the AFC said in a statement issued Monday, more than 18 hours after the deadline for nominations.
Salman has also been nominated for a position on FIFA's executive committee along with Hassan Al Thawadi, the secretary-general of the Qatar 2022 World Cup organizing committee.
Bin Hammam, who became AFC president in 2002, was found guilty of attempting to buy votes during his failed challenge against FIFA President Sepp Blatter in 2011 and the FIFA ethics committee suspended him from all football activity for life. The Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned that decision but bin Hammam remained under provisional suspensions by both FIFA and AFC as investigations continued into allegations of financial irregularities during his tenure.
The Qatari official's life ban was imposed again by FIFA after he resigned from all football positions on Dec. 17. He has denied wrongdoing.
Salman, a member of the Bahrain ruling royal family and head of the national football association, came within two votes of defeating bin Hammam for a seat on the FIFA executive committee in 2009 after a bitter battle that widened divisions in Asia.
"The past two years has seen enough bad publicity and it just gave us a bad image. We have to clear this up and have a wind of change and a new beginning," Salman said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "The big advantage is that people know me and I know lots of people and the relationships are ongoing. I have to convince them I am the right candidate."
Salman said that the ongoing political unrest in Bahrain and the reports of national team players being placed under arrest shortly after participating in pro-democracy demonstrations in February 2011 is not relevant to his bid.
"We'd like to keep sport as it is and the political side we never talk about," he said. "There is progress in the political situation with negotiations still going on with the opposition and government but ... I want to talk about football."
Having multiple candidates from the Middle East could dilute the support for all three of them. It is widely expected AFC vice president Al Serkal, Salman and Al Medlej, chairman of the AFC's marketing committee, will meet in the coming weeks.
Serkal called on the three to agree on one candidate for the West Asian region, contending he should be the choice given his vast experience in UAE football and with the AFC.
Serkal also defended his close association with bin Hammam, whom he called a close friend, and said it won't hurt his campaign because he was never linked to any of the allegations of corruption that brought down the Qatari football executive.
"When bin Hammam was president, everyone was so close to him," Serkal told The Associated Press. "When he had a problem, a lot of people turned their back on him. I didn't because I had nothing to worry about. I have not been related to corruption, whether it be an allegations or whether it's true. It's not my concern. Mohamed's case is over."
Worawi, a long-time member of the FIFA Executive Committee, is the only candidate from the eastern side of the 46-member confederation. He was endorsed last week by the 11-nation regional body representing South East Asian football, a nomination the group says comes with the backing of Australia.
FIFA last December cleared Worawi of suspicion that he profited from soccer development projects in Thailand.
He had been suspected of breaching conflict-of-interest ethics rules after the Football Association of Thailand used $860,000 of FIFA funding to build fields and offices on land his family was believed to own. FIFA closed the investigation after saying that Worawi had provided documents that showed he donated the land in question to the association.
Australia's Moya Dodd is the only person to nominate for the female vice president position.
The spot on the FIFA executive gives another Qatari a chance to be among the key decision makers in the sport.
Since becoming the first Middle Eastern country to win the right to host the World Cup, Qatar has had to deny a series of allegations of bribery.
Al Thawadi insisted that the bid was conducted to the "highest ethical and moral standards."