Velappan lifts the lid on Asian soccer’s desert storm

by Jeremy Walker

KUWAIT CITY — Although he left the Asian Football Confederation two years ago after 30 years’ service, former secretary general Peter Velappan is still a respected and influential voice in the Asian game. On a recent visit to Kuwait, the Malaysian sat down for an interview with Al Watan TV and told of the urgent need to remove AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam. Former Japan Times columnist Jeremy Walker was allowed to sit in on the interview, and was shocked by Velappan’s vitriol against the controversial Qatari.

Behind the scenes of Asian soccer, the trouble that has been brewing for a couple of years is boiling over.

It will come to a head — and a painful conclusion for one of two parties — on May 8, when the Asian Football Confederation Congress is held in Kuala Lumpur.

On the agenda is the election of a FIFA Executive Council member from within Asia, and there are two candidates. The first is the AFC president, Mohamed Bin Hammam, who has held the FIFA seat unopposed since 1996.

The challenger is 43-year-old Bahraini Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, who has the backing of major Asian powers such as Japan, South Korea, China and Saudi Arabia.

The 46 affiliated members will have one vote each in a secret ballot, and Hammam has vowed to stand down as AFC president if he loses his cherished FIFA seat, ending his dream to succeed Sepp Blatter as FIFA president.

No one knows the political landscape better than popular Malaysian Peter Velappan, who was secretary general of the AFC for 30 years and is now campaigning vigorously for Shaikh Salman.

“The Asian football family was very united with solidarity and harmony and wonderful friendship,” Velappan told the Kuwait-based Al Watan TV station.

“Mr. Mohamed Bin Hammam became president in 2002, and until 2006 he was a good president. But since then he has really divided Asia into so many different groups and has marginalized the important associations such as Japan, (South) Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Malaysia.

“I left the AFC two years ago and I am very sad because we gave him a diamond plate, a wonderful Asian football family and new headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, and his first move was to insult Malaysia by proposing to remove the headquarters out of Kuala Lumpur.

“This is really outrageous because it is the home of Asian football and has contributed to Asian football for over 50 years.

“There is no reason why he should do that because all the members of the Asian football family love Malaysia and the headquarters have become their home.”

Velappan added: “Everybody is worried about his leadership. He is my friend, but he does not know the culture of Asian football and has imposed desert values. His policy is to divide and rule and the family has broken up into so many pieces.”

Velappan said that Asia’s first World Cup, cohosted by Japan and South Korea in 2002, had laid the foundations for major development, but this chance has been wasted.

“Football is a gold mine and we needed to develop the game, but instead he has gone into politics and become a dictator and taken away all the power of the committees. “Committee meetings have become a joke because they are over in 15 minutes because he makes all the decisions. It is totally unacceptable.”

Velappan is urging Asian soccer associations to support Shaikh Salman in the May 8 Congress and describes it as a turning point for the AFC.

“I am very happy that 21 members came to Kuwait to give their support to Shaikh Salman. It is good for the future of Asian football.”

Velappan said the AFC needed to focus on soccer again and unite Asia, as Hammam refused to listen to anyone and was running the Asian game as an autocracy.

“He is a dangerous person to lead Asian football, and I hope that Shaikh Salman’s campaign slogan ‘AFC: Asia For Change’ will succeed.”

In recent interviews, Hammam has accused powerful South Korean Chung Mong Joon, a vice president on the 24-strong FIFA Executive Committee, of funding Shaikh Salman’s challenge.

But Velappan dismisses this. “Right now Mr. Hammam is very nervous, confused and unstable, so he is attacking everybody.

“He attacked the Korean vice-president of FIFA in a TV interview, saying he had chopped off his hands, chopped off his legs and would now cut off his head, and he told another presenter that he had kicked me out of the AFC after 30 years.

“Is this the language of a leader? It is not even the language of a Bedouin. It is the language of a desperate man.”