Concerns about ‘soccer diplomacy’ deepening… Korean football must establish its position in the AFC from the bottom


The Korea Football Association continues to worry about ‘soccer diplomacy’. 

Chung Mong-gyu, head of the 스포츠토토 Korea Football Association, failed in the FIFA Council member election held at the 33rd Asian Football Federation (AFC) General Assembly held in Manama, Bahrain on the 1st. 

The FIFA Council is a key body that deliberates the major policies of FIFA. The term of office of the members of the Council is four years, and they also serve as the AFC Executive Committee members during their term. South Korea has no personnel who can exert influence on the AFC or FIFA. 

Chairman Chung Mong-kyu ran for the 2015 FIFA executive committee election and had an experience of losing. Afterwards, he challenged again in 2017 and was elected as a member of the FIFA Council and worked for two years. However, he failed to win re-election in the 2019 FIFA Council member election, and he drank another bitter cup in this challenge. 

Chairman Chung ranked only 6th out of 7 candidates in this election. He got 19 out of 45 valid votes. Sheikh Ahmad Khalifa Al Thani (Qatar) with 40 votes, Kelp Gozo (Japan) with 39 votes, and Yasser Al Misijal (Saudi Arabia) with 35 votes, were named in the top three. It was followed by Mariano V. Araneta Jr. (Philippines) with 34 votes and Datuk Haji Hamiddin bin Haji Mohd Amin (Malaysia) with 30 votes to become the last elected members of the executive committee. The term of office of the newly elected members is until 2027. 

At this general meeting, the AFC president was also elected. The current chairman, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Khalifa (Bahrain), ran as a sole candidate and succeeded in reappointing without a vote. Saudi Arabia has been selected as the host of the 2027 Men’s Asian Cup. 

It was a place where the current state of Korean soccer diplomacy was revealed once again. Chairman Chung Mong-kyu, who placed 6th in the FIFA Council member elections, received only 19 votes, leaving a large gap with 5th (30 votes). Korea accepted the bitter result of being pushed behind by figures from the Philippines and Malaysia. 

Korean football tried to host the 2023 Asian Cup, which China returned the right to host last year, but was pushed back by Qatar. 

It is also noteworthy that even North Korea produced female executive members. Han Eun-kyung, vice president of the North Korean Football Association, became the East Zone elected member of the AFC female executive committee, which selects one person from each of the five regions. 

AFC has been forming a strong vested interest in Middle Eastern countries for a long time. Analysts say that despite Northeast Asia being behind in politics within the AFC, the reason why Japan can consistently occupy a member of the FIFA Council is because Japanese sponsors are stable in various events of the AFC. 

On the other hand, South Korea had a case of enmity with key members of the Middle East in the past, so it had to spend considerable diplomatic energy to reverse it. In addition, Korean soccer did not actively attract various competitions or sponsors hosted by the AFC. At the same time, there is an analysis that only challenged ‘real seats’ such as FIFA council members and Asian Cup bids, and the result led to failure. In the future, it seems that the international diplomatic power of Korean soccer should start by hardening the floor at AFC, taking the current failure as a mirror. 

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