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Voice of Asian Football Silenced
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For almost three decades Peter Velappan has been the voice of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), but the controversial secretary general has now been silenced.

AFC president Mohammed bin Hammam, a Qatari who says he lives by the maxim that actions speak louder than words, has decided he will now be the only person authorized to talk officially on Asian football matters.

According to an AFC official, the rationale is that Asian football's governing body is going through a transition "from being amateur to being professional" and a single voice is needed.

The AFC's website says Velappan is "internationally recognized as an outstanding professional and a leading football expert in the world", but it appears the veteran is not what is needed to achieve the AFC goal.

Velappan, or Pistol Pete as he is known in some quarters, has had a habit of firing from the hip during his 27-year reign, to the delight of journalists but not always the powers that be.

At the 2004 Asian Cup finals in Beijing, he was forced to apologize for blasting Chinese fans and questioning whether Beijing should host the 2008 Olympics.

He had been outraged when fans booed speeches by guests at the opening match and threatened to keep future AFC events out of the Chinese capital. He even suggested the city was not a suitable venue for the Olympics.

The latest comments that ruffled feathers came last week at the opening ceremony of a FIFA management course and appeared to fly in the face of bin Hammam's edict that only he can speak publicly.

Velappan called ASEAN football chiefs unprofessional and blamed FIFA for not training them properly, prompting 22 senior Association of Southeast Asian Nations football officials to fire off a letter to FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

In it they slammed Velappan for the "discharge of personal rancour in a public forum", calling his criticism "gratuitous" and claiming he had done nothing to help the game in their region during his time in power.

Velappan, who the website says "commands very high respect from the world football community", was not available to comment on the furore.

Only bin Hammam, also a member of FIFA's executive committee and close to Blatter, can now do that.

"Under AFC regulations, only the president has the right to speak," said the unassuming, but no-nonsense, bin Hammam. "Velappan's remarks did not reflect his capacity as the AFC secretary general."

It is not the first time the 70-year-old Malaysian has caused a flap, or been slapped down, but the AFC denies relations between bin Hammam and Velappan have soured.

"There is no rift," an AFC spokeswoman insisted, but she declined to comment further.

Velappan has devoted the past 40 odd years to football in Malaysia and Asia, including being manager of the national team, taking them to the Munich Olympics in 1972.

He became AFC secretary general in 1978 and is credited with being the force behind the organization's expansion to include its current 46 members.

But his time appears to be drawing to a close, with another Malaysian, Paul Mony, drafted in last year as his deputy.

Even his own association, the Football Association of Malaysia, seems to have lost faith.

"I hope anyone who takes over the secretary general post of AFC in the future learns from past mistakes and is more mature when making any statement to the public," said deputy president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah.

Sources close to the AFC suggest the aging icon will retire after the Asian Cup finals in 2007.

(AP via China Daily February 22, 2006)

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