Jordan's Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein was elected as a FIFA vice president Thursday, beating incumbent Chung Mong-joon in an election that further bolsters the power of football in the Middle East.
Just weeks after Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup, delegates at the 45-nation Asian Football Confederation congress voted 25-20 to back Prince Ali, a result that brought cheers and shouts of "Allahu Akbar" — or "God is great." The vote was another blow for South Korea, which was also a bidder for the 2022 World Cup, and likes ends Chung's chances of challenging Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency in June.
Blatter attended the congress in Doha ahead of the Asian Cup which opens Friday, and called on delegates to support his candidacy.
Ahead of the vote at the Sheraton Hotel in Doha, the 35-year-old Prince Ali successfully unified Arab support behind his bid, arguing that he would unify Asia and bring fresh energy to the post.
"I want to introduce a new work ethic in Asian football," he said. "I want to energize this position in a way that serves all our needs. I promise that if we win we will continue to unite Asian football in the future."
Chung, who had served in the position for 16 years, argued that he was best positioned to lead Asian football into the future, including building up the women's game and improving infrastructure as part of his efforts "to bring football closer to the people."
Chung is a longtime South Korean lawmaker and the controlling shareholder in Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world's largest shipbuilder. He was a key factor in helping bring South Korea the right to co-host the World Cup with Japan.
Chung's late father Chung Ju-yung founded the Hyundai conglomerate — which is now a top-tier FIFA sponsor — and ran unsuccessfully for president of South Korea in 1992. Chung was also a national presidential candidate in 2002.
But in the end, Chung suffered from his troubled relationship with AFC president Mohamed bin Hammam who ran unopposed and was re-elected to a third and final term. He was also seen as a threat to Blatter, who many say can now count on a smooth re-election.
Sheik Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, who heads the Olympic Council of Asia and the Kuwait Football Federation, said the 25 delegates who voted for Prince Ali will support Blatter when he stands for re-election and that Bin Hammam — who is also seen as having an eye on the top job — is unlikely to challenge him.
"We believe President Blatter deserves to continue as president," he said "I don't think Bin Hammam will go against him. Qatar will not go against him."
Ali led the Jordan Football Association since 1999, and the following year founded the West Asian Football Federation which includes Qatar, Iran, Iraq and Palestine.
The AFC congress, on the eve of the 16-nation Asian Cup competition, is a timely showcase confirming gas-rich Qatar as a major player on the world football stage, despite a playing ranking of No. 114.
Asia sends four delegates to FIFA's ruling executive committee. Along with bin Hammam and Ali, Thailand's Worawi Makudi and Vernon Manilal Fernando of Sri Lanka were elected for those posts. Worawi was the incumbent for one seat, while the other was vacated by Junji Ogura of Japan, who is 72 and barred by AFC age rules from standing.
They beat out China's Zhang Jilong and Kohzo Tashima of Japan.
The winners will be installed at the FIFA Congress scheduled May 31-June 1.
Supporters of Prince Ali said he would help elevate the importance of Asian football within FIFA and provide a key liaison between the governing body and Qatar as it prepares for the 2022 World Cup.
"Prince Ali is a newcomer and he can add value to this organization. We want our organization to be more professional," Al-Sabah said. "We believe Mr. Chung is a good man, very respectable. But in (16 years) we didn't find anything that he added in value for the organization. Maybe for football in his country. In Asia, he didn't give a lot of support because he is a busy man. We understand the situation."
Taha al-Kishry, a member of the Omani delegation, said the vote was another sign that football in the region on the upswing.
"As West Asia, we are one and we voted for our man," al-Kishry said. "He is a young person and has a lot of ideas. I think he will do the best for Asia. Qatar has the world Cup and now we have Prince Ali. It means football is going up in the Middle East, in Asia."
Associated Press writer Kim Kwang-tae in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.