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Asian leaders rebel, postpone election for FIFA Council

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GOA, India (AP) Asian soccer leaders rebelled against FIFA on Tuesday, calling off their extraordinary congress and postponing the election of three representatives to the new FIFA Council.

The Asian Football Confederation said the congress lasted only 27 minutes after member countries voted 42-1 against the agenda. The decision comes two days after FIFA barred a Qatari candidate from running for a spot on the council.

The congress in Goa had been called to elect three officials to join existing AFC members from Japan, Kuwait and Malaysia, as well as President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain, on the 37-member FIFA Council.

''The congress has spoken with one voice and that has been clear for us all to see,'' Sheikh Salman said. ''FIFA President Gianni Infantino, I am not sure if you have been at a shorter congress but I think you can see the strength of opinion in the room.''

Only Singapore voted in favor of the agenda. The country's candidate, Zainudin Nordin, was set to benefit from his Qatari opponent being excluded.

The increase of the FIFA Council to 37 members, chaired by Infantino, was a key part of reforms at the scandal-hit world body and was approved on the same day in February that the former UEFA secretary general beat Sheikh Salman for the presidency.

''Today the AFC and Asian football has shown solidarity,'' Sheikh Salman said. ''The message has been clear to everyone both inside and outside Asia.''

The AFC later held an emergency executive committee meeting, where Chinese candidate Zhang Jian was added to the committee until the next extraordinary congress. Dates and a venue for the rescheduled election will have to be ratified by FIFA.

FIFA ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert earlier this month opened a case against Qatar Football Association vice president Saoud Al-Mohannadi, who was one of four men seeking one of the new seats from Asia on world soccer's ruling council.

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FIFA prosecutors asked Eckert to ban Al-Mohannadi for ''no less than two years and six months'' for not telling the truth and not cooperating properly with an ethics investigation. But Al-Mohannadi said at the time he was confident of a fair review and that he had cooperated candidly. The case does not involve Qatar's 2022 World Cup bid, but no further details were provided by the FIFA ethics committee.

FIFA announced Sunday it had barred Al-Mohannadi from running in the election based on an ethics committee report, leaving Zhang, the Chinese soccer association secretary general, running against Ali Kafashian of Iran and Nordin of Singapore for two of the three FIFA Council seats from Asia.

The third seat from Asia has been reserved for female candidates, with Moya Dodd of Australia running against Han Un Gyong of North Korea and Mafuza Akhter of Bangladesh.

The AFC president, who ran for the top job in soccer against Infantino in the wake of the scandals that rocked FIFA last year, said stalling the election wasn't designed to delay any reform agenda.

''There is no argument between us and FIFA,'' Sheikh Salman said. ''I think we will be the first supporters of the FIFA's reforms ... but we need to be fair and just as well.''

It is unclear what the effect of Tuesday's turmoil will have on an Oct. 13-14 meeting of the FIFA Council in Zurich with Asia now below its quota of delegates.

The session was set to look in detail at the 2026 World Cup, with the United States and Canada among potential hosts. Infantino made an election campaign promise to add eight teams to create a 40-team tournament.

The issue of when Asia could next host a World Cup is also up for debate with China eager to bid as soon as possible. A current FIFA rule that bars confederations from back-to-back hosting means China can next be a candidate for 2030.

However, FIFA could also propose a two-tournament gap for confederations - knocking European bidders out of the 2026 contest but also pushing back China's ambitions to at least 2034.