- Associated Press - Friday, August 12, 2016

GENEVA (AP) - China aims to build its growing influence at FIFA by fielding a candidate in Asian elections for new seats on the world soccer body’s ruling council that were created during anti-corruption reforms.

The Chinese soccer federation’s general secretary, Zhang Jian, is competing against candidates from Iran, Qatar and Singapore for two vacant FIFA seats in a Sept. 27 vote.

The Asian Football Confederation said Friday that all four men, plus three female candidates seeking a seat guaranteed for women, have passed integrity checks by FIFA to stand for election by its member federations meeting in Goa, India.

Zhang’s rivals are: Ali Kafashian Naeni of Iran; Saoud Al Mohannadi of Qatar; Zainudin Nordin of Singapore.

The elections are the first to send Asian delegates to FIFA’s ruling committee since Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group signed as a World Cup sponsor through 2030 in March.

The firm said then that becoming a top-tier sponsor, paying FIFA hundreds of millions of dollars, left it “better placed” to help decide which countries host future World Cups.

China would next be eligible to host at the 2030 tournament. Because Qatar is hosting the 2022 World Cup, Asian bidders are excluded from a 2026 race expected to include the United States and Canada.

The 2030 decision should be in a vote of all FIFA’s member federations from a shortlist agreed by the ruling council - a rebranded version of the much-criticized executive committee which used to pick World Cup hosts.

Creating the council and giving World Cup hosting votes to all members are among FIFA reforms agreed in recent rounds of modernizing changes provoked by bribery scandals and World Cup voting allegations since 2018 host Russia and Qatar were picked in 2010.

Another reform is a guaranteed council seat for a woman from each of the FIFA’s six continental confederations.

The AFC said Friday that its three candidates are: Moya Dodd of Australia; Mahfuza Ahkter of Bangladesh; Han Un Gyong of North Korea.

Dodd, a lawyer and former international player, has helped raised the profile and influence of women’s soccer as a co-opted FIFA executive committee member since 2013.

FIFA gave its confederations a September deadline to hold elections for female delegates ahead of the next council meeting.

President Gianni Infantino will chair a first session of the expanded 37-member panel on Oct. 13-14 in Zurich.

Among the other Asian candidates, Nordin is president of the Singapore federation and Qatar’s Al Mohannadi is making a second bid after failing to win election in April 2015.

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