AFC plan to elect new president by April
The turbulent reign of perennially suspended AFC boss Mohamed Bin Hammam will finally end with the regional body announcing plans on Thursday to elect a new president before April.
An Asian Football Confederation (AFC) statement said the election of a new leader was 'subject to recommendations and advice of the AFC Legal Committee' with a decision due by mid-January.
The statement came after the AFC's executive committee meeting at their headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday under the chairmanship of China's Zhang Jilong, who has held the role of acting president of the beleaguered body since May last year.
Zhang is a likely candidate to assume the full role but he will probably face competition from Bahraini FA president Sheikh Salman amongst others.
"Under my caretaker leadership, I promised a new vision for AFC. I committed myself to a new era of transparency and I am confident that with your support I will be able to deliver this objective," Zhang told AFC members on Thursday.
Should the election be approved by the AFC's legal department and a replacement found it would bring an end to the most memorable tenure by an AFC president, who has been out of office for the last 18 months fighting corruption allegations.
Elected in 2002, Bin Hammam was credited with revolutionising the Asian Champions League and also oversaw Australia's entrance to the confederation.
He survived two further elections, the last in January 2011 uncontested, but the critics were never far away and he was accused of being tough on some federations but slack on others.
In 2005, Indonesian FA head Nurdin Halid was sent to jail but continued to run the organisation until Fifa banned him from elections in 2011.
But with his power in world soccer ratified by outsiders Qatar being granted the rights to host the 2022 World Cup, Bin Hammam pushed on with a bid to become president of world governing body Fifa in 2011, only to see it end with his career in tatters.
Hammam withdrew from the race and was then provisionally suspended, days before the June election over allegations that he had tried to buy the votes of Caribbean officials by handing them $40 000 each in brown envelopes at a meeting in Port of Spain.
Blatter was subsequently re-elected unopposed for a fourth term as Fifa president, while Bin Hammam was found guilty of breaking seven articles of Fifa's ethics code, including one on bribery.
He was banned for life and subsequently lost an appeal at Fifa but was cleared by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, who said the decision did not amount to an "affirmative finding of innocence".
But Bin Hammam was unable to return to work as the head of Asian soccer and a member of Fifa's all powerful executive committee as he was suspended by the AFC for alleged financial wrong-doing.
The AFC suspension ran out with no punishment handed down but again Bin Hammam was blocked from returning to the game as Fifa's ethics committee opened another probe. That resulted in a 90-day ban which was extended in October and continues to stand.
Although Bin Hammam had said previously he had no plans to return to the sport after his experiences, there had been reports he might reconsider that decision after the latest investigations followed the CAS verdict.
But the election of a new president will finally end a sorry chapter for Asian soccer, flourishing on the field with vast investment leading to impressive team performances and world class individual players, and allow the body to move on with reforms.