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Mooted AFC move causes rumbles of discontent

BANGKOK, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Mooted plans to move the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) headquarters out of Kuala Lumpur have triggered discontent around the continent and concerns over a possible east-west split.

The AFC is dissatisfied with its Malaysian hosts and sources say several cities in the oil-rich Gulf have shown interest in giving the AFC a new home, offering perks Malaysia has refused to grant.

Malaysian soccer officials say the south-east Asian bloc ASEAN and several prominent east Asian nations vehemently oppose a move, fearing loss of commercial revenue and the growing Arab power and influence over Asian soccer.

Azuddin Ahmad, secretary-general of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), said the AFC belonged in Kuala Lumpur, its home for 43 years.

"The AFC was born in Malaysia, it is the history, there is a sentimental attachment," Azuddin told Reuters.

"We are against a move. There is a consensus in countries in ASEAN and a strong feeling on the East Asia side. Everyone is against this.

"People in the Middle East can plant money trees but they can't just elbow us out," he added.

Japanese and Chinese officials would not reveal their stance but sources, requesting anonymity, said complaints had been made privately, some suggesting a possible east-west split if a relocation went ahead.

South Korea said it was against a move from Kuala Lumpur because the city was perfectly located in a region stretching from Jordan to Australia.

"We think it will be a big debate. We are not in favour of moving and we need an explanation about what the decision will be," Ka Sam-hyun, general secretary of the Korean Football Association, told Reuters.

"We do not know what the intention of the president of the AFC is and we have to see what the other candidate cities are."

Malaysia and the AFC have been at odds for the last two years over issues including ownership of the land the headquarters is built upon and the FAM's reluctance to reschedule a visit by Manchester United, which fell during the 2007 Asian Cup, the AFC's biggest event.

However, the AFC's Qatari president Mohamed Bin Hammam last month said Malaysia would be first given the right of refusal in hosting the body.

"We need terms and conditions we can agree upon and which both parties can commit to," Bin Hammam said on the AFC's website.

"That is the reason we are looking at shifting our headquarters."

Bin Hammam gave no comment when contacted.

Prospective Arab bidders are expected to offer the AFC tax breaks, accommodation for employees and, possibly, diplomatic status, incentives Malaysia is not willing to provide.

There is widespread speculation that Bangkok and Singapore are also interested in becoming hosts and Bin Hammam has said both are entitled to bid. Thai and Singaporean officials would not comment.

Azuddin said Malaysia was reluctant to respond to what it felt were threats by the AFC, insisting it has support of most of the member countries, including several Middle East nations.

According to the AFC's statutes, a move of the headquarters requires the approval of 70 percent of its 46 members at next year's congress in May.

"Everyone is against this and even if half the members supported a move, it's not enough," Azuddin added.

"It's a non issue. No one can bulldoze their way in."


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