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Thai targets poor with AFC spending pledges

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Sudipto Ganguly

(Reuters) - Thai Worawi Makudi is confident the "dissenting voices" in his Southeast Asian region will support his bid to become the next Asian Football Confederation president after revealing a manifesto aimed at helping the impoverished.

The controversial Thailand FA chief says he will improve standards right across the 47-member confederation by changing how the AFC spends their money should he win the May 2 presidential vote.

"Funds sitting in the AFC coffers will not help Asian football. We need to redistribute the wealth," Worawi told Reuters on Thursday.

"There are countries in dire need, countries less wealthy than others.

"It should be a concept of 'help thy neighbour', because if all countries start playing high quality football, our aspirations to deliver a World Cup champion can be achieved."

Worawi is one of four candidates vying for Asian football's top job. The AFC have been without a permanent president since Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam, an ally of Worawi, was first banned for life by FIFA for corruption and bribery in 2011.

The Thai is up against three West Asian candidates - Bahrain's Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, Saudi Arabia official Hafez Ibrahim Al Medlej and United Arab Emirates chief Yousuf Al Serkal - in next week's vote in Kuala Lumpur.

From the onset, the 61-year-old seemed to have stolen a march on his rivals after securing the support of 11 Southeast Asian countries (ASEAN) but Worawi said cracks in his own bastion were to be expected.

CRITICAL SUPPORT

The FIFA executive committee member was, however, confident he would have the region's full support come vote day which he deemed "critical" for his chances of success.

"I would like to think all my friends would be with me. I have been assured of unanimous support by the ASEAN members," he said. "That would be critical. I have been travelling and meeting people. It has been encouraging.

"I've not heard that (some ASEAN members were against him) but I suppose one or two dissenting voices should be expected. Still, I trust that every ASEAN member will rally to a common cause."

While spending was a top priority, Worawi also wants Asia to have more say at the top table of world soccer's governing body.

FIFA vice-president Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan, Zhang Jilong of China and Worawi currently feature on FIFA's executive committee. Sri Lankan Vernon Manilal Fernando, an ally of Worawi, also sat on the FIFA exco but he was banned from any football activity for three months by the world governing body in March.

The Thai, a FIFA executive committee member since 1997, also wants to increase the number of countries represented in the AFC Champions League, the region's premier club tournament, to include more from the developing nations.

"Yes, the quality may be compromised a little. But we have got to start somewhere. This is where the redistribution of wealth comes in," he said.

CREDIBILITY

Asian football has been mired in crisis since Bin Hammam was given a lifetime ban by FIFA for bribery and corruption during his failed bid to become the world governing body's leader nearly two years ago.

All four candidates to replace him are long standing members of the AFC leaving question marks around their desire to clean up the embattled organisation.

Bahraini royal Sheikh Salman appears ahead in the race despite ducking questions last week about his alleged involvement in trying to crackdown on pro-democracy protests at home. Worawi and Al Serkal are known for their past proximity to Bin Hammam.

Worawi himself has faced graft allegations in the past but was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing. He distanced himself from talking about his rivals' credibility and said the clean sheet from FIFA was enough to silence his critics.

"I am up against some fine football administrators and gentlemen. They are all my friends. We all have our merits, we all have our plans," he said.

"As for the criticisms against me, I have been absolved by FIFA. It's not a claim I make. You can view all the relevant correspondence on my website."

The Thai, though, believes he is best placed to lead the body.

"I have garnered enough experience, travelled across the continent often enough and know what needs to be done to take AFC, and therefore, Asian football to the next level.

"But in saying all that, I don't promise miracles. I am not a magician. I don't have a magic wand."

(Editing by Patrick Johnston)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130425/thai-targets-poor-afc-spending-pledges