Zhang vows to unite and boost Asian football

Updated: 2011-06-14 10:08
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KUALA LUMPUR - It's the first day at work for Zhang Jilong as the acting president for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) at its headquarter on Monday in Kuala Lumpur, already he has a clear idea of his responsibility, which is to unite and boost the standards of Asian football, which is recently plagued by a series of scandals.

Zhang said on Monday that he intends to help Asian football bond and lift its teams' standards. "The Asian Football Club has come a long way, from having only 12 members when it was first established in 1954 to 46 members at present," he said.

"There are shortcomings in standards of football in Asia. Many teams are lagging behind by other continents," he added, acknowledging that Asian teams failed to emerge as top players in the world despite South Korea and Japan's outstanding performance in the recent FIFA World Cup.

"The Chinese football is even stagnant and this, in my opinion, is due to the misconception among the sports authorities. China, for example, is unclear on how it could promote football among the youth, who are the bedrock in football development. Youth players should be made a priority and given appropriate training."

Zhang assumed duty as AFC's acting president after the confederation's chief, Mohamed bin Hammam, was suspended after nine years in office for alleged bribery and corruption.

Mohamed, who is 62 years old, was due to campaign to replace Sepp Blatter as the president for FIFA, the international governing body of football but had withdrew his candidacy as he was probed for bribery allegations.

His suspension brought Asian football to a crossroad as it has in recent years been plagued with corruption and match-fixing scandals.

Police last month arrested two players from the South Korea's football league in a widening match-fixing scandal.

They were alleged to have been paid more than $110,000 to help their sides lose in April, prompting the club owners from the country's K-League to call for a state-run bookmaker to stop taking bets on all league matches.

More than 10 other players from the league are still being investigated in the scandal.

In China, several prestigious officials and referees were caught in match fixing scandals, including former China Football Association vice-presidents, Yang Yimin and Xie Yalong, and top referee, Lu Jun, who was penalized by the CFA.

"I despise the corruption within the football organizations," Zhang said. "I also regret some of the high-ranking officials are involved in it."

"I think foul play exists in every development and the managements of football organizations should step up to bolster the reputation of their leaders," he said, adding that his philosophy has always been one of honesty, pragmatism and discipline.

Zhang was the senior vice-president in AFC and is currently the Chairman of the Sports Committee for the Olympic Council of Asia and the director of the China International Sports Exchange Center.

If the 59-year-old Chinese takes on the position as the president of AFC, it would mark a new era for football in the world's largest continent.

"It could be a heavy burden for me taking on three different roles at the same time but they have a common target, to contribute to the sports' progress and I am ready to play my role and act on any mandate decided by the AFC committee," he said.