African and Asian confederations end years of frosty relations

The African and Asian football confederations ended years of frosty relations when they signed a co-operation agreement on Friday which could create voting blocks in next month’s FIFA Presidential election.

Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa and Confederation of African Football (CAF) counterpart Issa Hayatou signed the agreement in the Rwandan capital Kigali, restoring relations between the continents soured by acrimony over the hosting of the 2006 World Cup.

It could lead to African and Asian voters supporting each other’s candidates in the FIFA Presidential election in Zurich on Feb. 26.

Sheikh Salman, South African politician and businessman Tokyo Sexwale and Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan are among five candidates standing in the election on Feb. 26.

The others are former FIFA official Jerome Champagne from France and UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino, a Swiss.

Each of FIFA’s 209 member associations holds one vote at the presidential election, with 54 of those in Africa and 46 in Asia. Voting is secret and there is no obligation for FAs from the same continent to vote as a block.

CAF has not formally endorsed any candidates even though Sexwale is only the second African to stand for the post, following Hayatou in 2002.

The election will go ahead with FIFA mired in the worst corruption scandal in its history, with criminal investigations into the sport underway in the United States and Switzerland.

FIFA’s own ethics committee has sanctioned a number of officials, the most notable being FIFA president Sepp Blatter and European soccer boss Michel Platini who were both banned for eight years.

“Today we are here to re-launch a cooperation that will be beneficial to the two Confederations after several months of work,” Hayatou, who is also acting FIFA president, said in a statement.

Sheikh Salman, from Bahrain, said Africa and Asia were two great continents who have made a dramatic impact on the global football stage in this century.

“Both of us have aspirations and expectations of staging future tournaments not only the World Cup but also in women and age group competitions,” he said.

Africa and Asia used to play an annual match between their respective club champions and a game between the winners of their continental championships.

These were discontinued, however, after CAF ended formal relations in 2000 to protest against Asian electors voting for eventual winners Germany rather than South Africa in the 2006 World Cup bidding process.