Acting AFC chief says Hammam still boss

SINGAPORE, May 31, 2011 (AFP) - Mohamed bin Hammam is "still the president" of Asian football, his Chinese deputy Zhang Jilong insisted Tuesday despite being confirmed as acting chief while the Qatari faces a corruption probe.

Zhang said FIFA had "no right" to suspend bin Hammam from Asian Football Confederation (AFC) duties while it investigates allegations the former candidate tried to buy votes for the world body's presidential election.

"FIFA suspended bin Hammam but he is still the president of the AFC. FIFA has no right to prevent him from acting (in) his role in the AFC," Zhang said, according to the China Daily.

FIFA said bin Hammam was barred from all football activities worldwide when it announced its ruling on Sunday. And despite Zhang's comments, the AFC confirmed the vice president had taken over as temporary leader.

AFP - Mohammed bin Hammam arrives at FIFA headquarters for his hearing before the ethics committee of football's world governing body over bribery allegations on May 29, 2011 in Zurich.

"We, the members of the AFC executive committee, express our deepest concern at the latest developments within FIFA and that involves the AFC president Mohamed bin Hammam," an AFC statement said.

"We will be following the investigation as it takes its course. We hope the outcome of the investigation will be in the best interests of football in Asia and beyond."

On Monday, bin Hammam said he would appeal against the ban, which is in force while FIFA probes allegations that $40,000 cash bribes were offered to delegates in return for their votes.

Bin Hammam was suspended just hours after unexpectedly pulling out of the race to unseat Sepp Blatter, FIFA leader for the past 13 years, in Wednesday's presidential election.

Peter Velappan, the AFC's former general secretary and a known opponent of bin Hammam, said late Monday that Zhang's appointment was automatic under AFC rules.

"In the absence of a president, the deputy president will become the acting president. Bin Hammam cannot oppose this development," Velappan told AFP.

"This is the best thing for Asian football," he added.

Most Asian football bodies refused to comment on Monday when contacted by AFP, but heavyweights South Korea said they were maintaining their support for the Qatari.

Sri Lanka's Manilal Fernando, a bin Hammam ally who beat Zhang to a seat on FIFA's executive committee in January, also remained firmly behind the embattled president.

"Sri Lanka still supports bin Hammam and he is still the best," Fernando told AFP in an email.

Zhang's appointment follows an unprecedented crisis for global football with senior officials facing a welter of corruption claims, many stemming from Qatar's shock nomination as 2022 World Cup host.

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