South Korea lodges complaint ahead of Asian soccer elections

GENEVA (AP) — On the eve of Asian soccer elections for the FIFA Council, South Korea complained that Qatar’s candidate has been given favorable treatment.

The South Korean soccer federation urged the Asian Football Confederation’s election oversight panel on Friday to examine a supposed Qatar Football Association offer of free trips for voters to visit Doha for games in the past week.

“We urgently request you to review this matter in relation to any violation (of election rules),” South Korean soccer president Chung Mong-Gyu asked panel chairman Randall Cunliffe in a letter seen by The Associated Press. “This invitation clearly offers to provide the attendees with a business class air ticket as well as local accommodation.”

South Korea canceled its similar invitation for voters in the 47-member AFC to visit Seoul last month after Cunliffe intervened on March 11. The lawyer from Guam pointed out election rules prohibiting offers of gifts or benefits which could be linked to support of a candidate.

South Korea’s invitation was to see its national team play Colombia. Qatar was hosting the African Super Cup game between clubs from Morocco and Tunisia on March 29, and the Tunisian Super Cup on Monday.

The Asian soccer body said Friday it was reviewing the complaint, less than 24 hours before its election meeting in Kuala Lumpur. It did not address a question about how it handled the Qatari offer to voters.

Chung and QFA vice president Saoud Al Mohannadi are among eight male candidates to fill five seats on the FIFA Council until 2023. A sixth seat is being contested only by women.

Since 2017, Chung — the former CEO of long-time World Cup sponsor Hyundai Motors — has sat on the FIFA Council in an Asian delegation that includes Mariano Araneta of the Philippines, who is also a candidate for re-election Saturday.

Araneta “has been utilizing the private jet” of Al Mohannadi to campaign, Chung wrote to the AFC election panel, visiting at least eight voting countries at an estimated cost of $50,000 to $100,000.

Al Mohannadi would be the first Qatari to sit on FIFA’s ruling committee since then-FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam was suspended in 2011 for allegedly bribing Caribbean voters. Bin Hammam overturned that life ban on appeal, then resigned and was expelled from FIFA again the next year for financial mismanagement of AFC accounts as its president.

Al Mohannadi was blocked by a FIFA integrity check from being an election candidate in 2016. His one-year ban by the FIFA ethics committee for failing to cooperate with investigators was overturned on appeal.

On Saturday, AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain will be unopposed for a new four-year mandate. Elected in 2013, Sheikh Salman is the longest-serving leader among FIFA and its six continental confederations, after a slew of presidents were removed in fallout from corruption investigations in the United States and Switzerland.