Wednesday, July 30, 2008

AFC, Mr Hammam and I

"Mr Hammam, honestly speaking, I feel as if I'm in a fortress," I pulled no punches as the gentleman in a dapper suit escorted me to the lift.

"I used to be able to walk into anybody's office or cubicle when AFC were sharing the same roof with OCM. Those days I could walk directly into Datuk Peter's office, but of course subject to prior approval of her PA."

The Arab gentleman shrugged it aside, saying: "We are trying to project a professional image. It is also for security reasons."

I left it at that.

By now Mr Mohamed Hammam Al-Abdulla, who was installed as the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president in 2002, has grown accustomed to my style, direct and sometimes brusque to the point of being annoying.

On many occasions that our paths crossed, he assured me he would not entertain any calls for the AFC House to be shifted.

So when Hammam's proposal for AFC to move elsewhere was leaked out on Tuesday, a few hours ahead of the Malaysia-Chelsea match, read here it took me by surprise.

In a series of entries about AFC I intend to post in the foreseeable future, let's study the content of the interview I had with him in February 2002.

EXCEPT for their first four years when there were four presidents - all from Hong Kong - the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have been helmed by Malaysians.

From 1958 until today, a Prime Minister, a Cabinet member and a former Yang di-Pertuan Agong have had a hand in turning AFC into a respected organisation in world soccer.

Yet two years before AFC complete their five decades of existence, Malaysia are in danger of losing the presidency to a Qatari.

FIFA executive committee member Mohammad Hammam Al-Abdulla, described as a true gentleman by insiders, has declared his intention to run for the No 1 post.

The 20th AFC Congress, scheduled for May 10, has been postponed after the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan, thus giving rise to the speculation that incumbent Sultan Ahmad Shah - who was unanimously elected in 1994 after Tan Sri Hamzah Abu Samah pulled out from the race two days before the elections due to health reasons - might pass the baton to Hammam.

Always immaculately dressed, Hammam, 53 on May 8, looks like some dapper businessman ready to conduct deals at the drop of a hat. The father of 10 - five sons and five daughters - shares his thoughts with Mailsport's Rizal Hashim.

SUNDAY MAIL: Why do you see the need to have a change in AFC's leadership? And what made you decide to contest the No 1 post?

HAMMAM: With due respect to His Royal Highness the Sultan, I felt the time was right for a change. The Press got hold of the fact that I was contesting the post before I had the chance to discuss the matter with the president. Now that I have spoken to the president of my intention, he understood my feelings and the reasons behind this decision. He did not want to stand in my way as he felt it was my democratic right to contest. I sought his blessings to do so. If he had said no, I would not have declared my candidature. Since coming into AFC six years ago, I have felt Asia is divided into several factions. Although it is not so, the opinion, within and outside the world soccer fraternity, is that we are not a family. My priority is to change that perception. The feedback I get is that AFC are divided and there are splinter groups - the Middle East is not on the same wavelength as leaders from the Far East or the former Soviet bloc and etc etc. Let me reiterate that the Sultan had contributed to the development of football in Asia. I have the utmost respect for him.

SM: The decision to postpone the AFC Congress is seen as a compromise to allow Sultan Ahmad Shah to lead AFC into the first World Cup in Asia before passing the baton to you. What is your opinion?

HAMMAM: AFC under the able leadership of the Sultan worked hard to bring the World Cup to Asia. Rightfully His Royal Highness should be accorded the honour to lead AFC into an event which is a milestone in the history of football. After all the Sultan was the one who had formally proposed the idea of co-hosting. I would not want to speculate on the possible contest because His Royal Highness has yet to make his position clear.

SM: Many see the presidency as a full-time job. If you were to become AFC's eighth president, how would juggle your time between your duties in AFC, FIFA and your family in Doha?

HAMMAM: I reckon I would be spending more time in Kuala Lumpur. But as it is, I have been criss-crossing the globe due to my commitments with FIFA and AFC. I supervise the GOAL project in every continent and I am also the chairman of the FIFA technical committee which convenes to discuss the technical matters and finer points of the game.

SM: How would you react should there be another candidate to emerge between now and nomination day?

HAMMAM: AFC have always practised democracy. In that true spirit of democracy the Sultan gave me his blessings to stand for elections. But I believe I have the support of even Sultan Ahmad Shah if there were to be some other candidates.

SM: The AFC secretariat have been based in Malaysia when it was moved from Hong Kong to Penang in 1965. In 1978 it was moved to Kuala Lumpur and two years ago, AFC's own building was completed. Do you see the need to shift it elsewhere?

HAMMAM: I have no intention of moving the AFC secretariat out of Kuala Lumpur. A lot of money has been spent in developing the AFC House and it is in no one's interest to contemplate a shift. Kuala Lumpur, after all, is a strategic location. From the Middle East it takes around seven hours to reach Kuala Lumpur and this city is around six hours away from Japan.

SM: Is the position of the general secretary, Datuk Peter Velappan, under threat should a new president be elected into office?

HAMMAM: The issue does not arise. Without Velappan, AFC would not be where it is now. Velappan is my partner, and a partner of Asia and AFC. He has been the backbone of the organisation long before others came into the picture. I also do not understand why is Velappan being dragged into the battle for presidency. Although his position carries a certain degree of influence, one must not forget that the executive committee is the supreme policymaker of AFC. The secretariat merely implements the policies. And the office-bearers are elected into office through a secret ballot from the delegates of 44 countries, 43 if you exclude Afghanistan.

SM: Tell us a little bit of your background.

HAMMAM: I have been involved in sports since 1970 when I became the president of Al-Rayyan, one of the biggest clubs in Qatar. I was president of the Qatar FA between 1992 and 1996 before moving on to AFC and FIFA. I also held the presidency of the Qatari volleyball and table tennis associations from 1979 to 1983. I was also a member of the Qatar Olympic Committee as well as a member of the Qatari Advisory Council which is equivalent to the parliament. I am involved in the construction business. I did Business Administration at Beirut University in Lebanon. This is a bit embarrassing, but I have 10 children - five sons and five
daughters. One more and I would have a football team! And contrary to reports, I do not fly by private jets.


Anonymous said...

the best part Council yg buat kan polisi dan bukan seketariat so ini perlu di cermainkan oleh FAM

Anonymous said...

Just like our maids the President is on the run....the President can go...but kindly leave the AFC and The HQ as it was and...please dont try to steal any money.

with immediate effect the AFC must call for an immediate forensic audit of ALL TRANSACTIONS and PREPARE FOR THE NEW PRESIDENT.

For the Game. For the World.

Anonymous said...

Jangan ikutkan hati yang sentiasa 'hangin' dengan FAM. Semua keputusan memang perlu dapatkan pengesahan dan kelulusan Council. Sekretariat hanya menjalankan apa yang telah diputuskan oleh Council.

Jangan kerana sakit hati kita kepada FAM, kita balon FAM kiri kanan. Kita bukan saja perlu kena adil kpd FAM, tapi kepada diri kita sendiri juga.

Tak gitu Rizal?

Anonymous said...

Dear Rizal,

What are your comments on hammam's move, apart from reporting what was reported, i dont see your thoughts on this. You can't be banging others and then allowing your friends to get away with murder. I hope the awards and the prize money that afc has given you lately won't stand in the way of your need to see justice done.

rizal hashim said...

True football critic,

I reproduce here my column in Kosmo! dated Aug 2, 2008.


BAGI pemerhati bola sepak yang mengikuti perkembangan Gabungan Bola Sepak Asia (AFC) dengan tekun, berita mengenai cadangan presidennya Mohamed Hammam Al Abdulla memindahkan urusetia persekutuan keluar dari Kuala Lumpur tidaklah mengejutkan.

Penggiat bola sepak Malaysia, khususnya yang pernah menyumbang keringat, tenaga dan air mata dalam membangunkan AFC sepanjang berdekad lalu, sudah tentu membantah cadangan ini.

Bagi bekas setiausaha agungnya, Datuk Peter Velappan, cadangan itu satu tamparan buat sejarah dan warisan bola sepak Asia dan Malaysia.

Ini menunjukkan AFC tidak menghormati sejarah dan sumbangan Malaysia dan warga Malaysia dalam menaikkan imej bola sepak Asia.

Tanpa Malaysia dan warganya yang bertungkus-lumus mencanai idea dan dasar ketika beroperasi di Pulau Pinang, Ipoh, kemudian menumpang Persatuan Bola Sepak Malaysia (FAM) di Jalan Maharajalela pada 1978 sebelum berpindah sebumbung dengan Majlis Olimpik Malaysia (MOM) pada 1995, AFC tidak mungkin semasyhur ini.

Biarpun batu asasnya diletakkan di Hong Kong, badan induk bola sepak Asia itu berkembang apabila sekretariatnya dipindahkan ke Malaysia di bawah teraju Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Alhaj.

Daripada sebuah organisasi yang sederhana dari segi penampilan, kedudukan kewangan dan reputasi, AFC dianggap antara organisasi paling disegani di peringkat dunia.

Jumlah pendapatannya dikatakan mencecah RM400 juta setahun, satu kedudukan kewangan yang tentunya melampaui imaginasi pemimpin-pemimpin terdahulu.

Ini berbeza dengan keadaan AFC yang tenat ketika Tunku Abdul Rahman dipilih menerajui AFC pada Kongres pertamanya di Tokyo serentak dengan Sukan Asia pada 1958.

Dalam bukunya Lest We Forget (1983), Tunku Abdul Rahman mengimbas:

“Ketika saya dipilih selaku Presiden AFC ketika temasya Sukan Asia di Tokyo pada 1958, setiausaha AFC ketika itu bekas pemain Hong Kong yang terkenal, Lee Wai Tong.

“Kantung AFC boleh dikatakan kontang (menurut buku Power of Dreams yang dikeluarkan sempena ulang tahun ke-50 AFC, badan induk itu hanya mempunyai HK$3,300 ketika itu). Bola sepak Asia tidak mempunyai wang dan organisasi yang tersusun.

“Apabila saya mengambil alih teraju AFC, bekas pengadil Koe Ewe Teik menjadi setiausaha agung. AFC mula berfungsi dan bola sepak Asia mula disegani. Saya ditemani beberapa individu lain seperti Datuk Kwok Kin Keng, Lim Kee Seong dan Datuk Teoh Chye Hin dan kami berganding bahu menjadikan AFC sebagai antara persatuan bola sepak terkemuka dunia.

“Apabila Chye Hin menjadi setiausaha agung, Ewe Teik menjadi bendahari. Kami meninggalkan AFC serentak pada 1978, dengan RM1 juta dalam simpanan AFC.”

Masih segar dalam ingatan saya apabila membuat liputan untuk sebuah akhbar berbahasa Inggeris ketika Rumah AFC yang bernilai RM18juta dirasmikan lapan tahun lalu. AFC akhirnya mempunyai bangunan sekretariatnya sendiri di Bukit Jalil, di atas sebidang tanah kurniaan Kerajaan Malaysia.

Disebabkan presiden AFC ketika itu adalah Sultan Pahang, Sultan Ahmad Shah, AFC menikmati banyak kelebihan. Kebanyakan tulang belakang di balik tabir AFC juga adalah warga Malaysia.

Bagi kita, Rumah AFC adalah satu lagi mercu tanda kebanggaan negara selepas Litar F1 Sepang dan kompleks Sukan Bukit Jalil.

Tidak lama selepas Sultan Ahmad Shah memberi laluan kepada Hammam untuk mengambil alih tampuk pimpinan AFC pada 2002, tanda-tanda memusnahkan legasi ini sudah kelihatan.

Kakitangan warga Malaysia yang dulunya kakitangan tetap dijadikan staf secara kontrak selama empat tahun bermula pada Disember 2005.

Australia dipelawa menyertai benua Asia dan AFC, manakala ibu pejabatnya membuka pintu kepada pakar-pakar dari luar negara untuk mengambil alih daripada warga Malaysia. Ini atas nama profesionalisme, kononnya.

Hammam yang disifatkan sebagai presiden yang bersifat autokratik, dikhabarkan mahu meminta Kerajaan Malaysia memberi keistimewaan dari banyak segi, termasuk pengecualian cukai, tanah di Putra Jaya dan layanan permaidani merah ke mana saja dia pergi.

Seorang usahawan yang mempunyai 10 anak, Hammam nampaknya sedang menguji sejauh mana Malaysia sanggup mempertahankan warisan yang bermula 50 tahun lalu di Tokyo.

Pelbagai isu, termasuk kontroversi membabitkan pembatalan kehadiran Manchester United pada Julai 2007 dan penganjuran Champions Youth Cup yang disokong oleh AFC menjadikan hubungan AFC, FAM dan Kerajaan Malaysia ibarat "retak menanti belah".

Apakah kita sekadar berpeluk tubuh dan membiarkan Kongres AFC menentukan masa depan ibu pejabat AFC dalam persidangannya Mei tahun depan?

Bukankah baru saja tahun lalu Timbalan Perdana Menteri Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak melawat Hammam di Rumah AFC, ditemani satu rombongan besar yang diberi pelbagai hadiah, termasuk pen mahal setiap seorang?

Bukankah bekas Menteri Kewangan Tun Daim Zainuddin dilantik mengetuai jawatankuasa audit dalaman AFC tidak lama dahulu?

Apakah kita berpuas hati menjadi penonton dalam drama ini?

Anonymous said...

Dear Rizal,

I read blogs, not the mainstream media, and if you are making a posting in your blog I would expect to see your thoughts on the subject in your blog. If you are going to reserve your comments for Kosmo, then why should I visit your blog.
But I stand corrected, just the same.


rizal hashim said...

true football critic,

read between the lines.

that's why i said in this entry that i would be posting more on afc later.