Asian soccer body set to end presidential term limits in latest pushback on anti-corruption reforms

The Asian Football Confederation could soon abolish term limits for its president and elected officials, continuing a trend among international sports bodies toward weakening anti-corruption rules and letting leaders stay in office.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia are among four AFC members who are proposing to end term limits when the AFC meets in Bangkok next month ahead of the FIFA congress there on May 17.

The proposal, which has been seen by The Associated Press, asks member federations to “remove the term limits imposed on the AFC executive committee members and president.”

That would open the door for AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain to keep the job — and the status it brings as a FIFA vice president — after his term ends in 2027.

Sheikh Salman was first elected in 2013 to complete the term vacated by Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, who was implicated in bribing FIFA voters. He is on his third full, four-year term — the maximum according to current AFC rules.

The AFC, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, did not answer questions about the proposal sent Monday by the AP.

Term limits for presidents and senior officials are seen as a key curb on power cliques and patronage in international sports.

However, the AFC follows UEFA and the International Olympic Committee in recent months by looking to extend their leaders’ hold on power as time passes after notorious scandals.

A swath of senior officials implicated in bribery once provoked crisis at the IOC and FIFA who later capped their presidents at 12 years in office.

High-profile reforms of their legal rules followed the exposure 25 years ago of corruption in Salt Lake City’s bid for the 2002 Winter Games and the May 2015 arrests of soccer officials at Zurich hotels as part of a sweeping investigation by United States federal agencies.

A former anti-corruption advisor to FIFA, Swiss law professor Mark Pieth, told the AP last year term limits were “one of the essential points. Otherwise you are inviting in corruption.”

The 12-year limit was first amended by FIFA, whose leader Gianni Infantino rose to power in 2016 in fallout from the American and Swiss cases. Infantino moved early in his presidency to ensure his first three years, completing a mandate of ousted predecessor Sepp Blatter, should not count against the 12.

UEFA provoked rifts between its president Aleksander Čeferin and senior colleagues before members voted in February that he could be allowed, like Infantino, to stay for 15 years through 2031. Despite winning the vote, Čeferin insisted he would still leave in 2027.

It is unclear if IOC president Thomas Bach will leave in 2025 when his 12 years expire. He has let speculation flourish since last October when some IOC members asked if the Olympic charter can be changed to let him stay for four more years. Bach has said the subject will not be dealt with before the Paris Olympics close in August.

The AFC proposal appears to enable senior officials to seek re-election an unlimited number of times.

However, FIFA rules should still ensure Sheikh Salman must leave his VP role with the global soccer body in 2031.

FIFA statutes limit the 37 members of its ruling council to a maximum of three four-year terms starting in 2019. Sheikh Salman would therefore need an AFC rules change to let him stay as its president and use his FIFA council quota of years.

If the AFC did have a presidential vacancy in 2027, an expected candidate would be Yasser al Misehal, head of the Saudi soccer federation. Asked in December about his leadership ambitions, Al Misehal told the AP “to be honest, it is too early.”

Now the Saudi federation, along with Qatar, Uzbekistan and Lebanon — whose top soccer official Hachem Haidar has chaired an AFC governance taskforce this year — are promoting the rules change to let Sheikh Salman stay.

Creating Haidar's group in December, the AFC said it aimed “to conform to the highest ethical standards.”


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