KUALA LUMPUR - Gaffe-prone former top Asian Football Confederation official Peter Velappan was forced to apologise yesterday after telling the AFC president to go home "to the desert".
The remark at a press conference, in which Velappan was critical of Qatari AFC chief Mohamed bin Hammam, drew the ire of Arab journalists, who condemned it as racist.
Velappan, who was the AFC's secretary-general for 30 years, was asked to retract the comment, with former AFC press officer Mohamed Awada leading the demands.
"I come from the desert and that is an insult to us," said Lebanon's Awada.
Velappan issued a statement of apology.
"I also want to express my most heartfelt regret to all member associations of the AFC as well," said the Malaysian, who has come out of retirement to drum up support for Bin Hammam's challenger, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa.
Bahrain's Sheikh Salman is looking to unseat Bin Hammam from his Fifa executive committee seat in a bitter battle that has been marked by mud-slinging.
The AFC's 46 member nations will vote on the matter at their congress in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow.
Sheikh Ahmad Al Sabah, the president of the Kuwait Football Association and head of the Olympic Council of Asia, attempted to play down the controversy.
"We will be sending home a desert man [Bin Hammam] and bringing in another desert man [Sheikh Salman]," said Sheikh Ahmad, who is in cohorts with Velappan in wanting Bin Hammam out.
"I'm a desert man and I'll vote for one of the desert people."
Velappan, who retired in 2006, is renowned for firing from the hip. He was famously forced to apologise in 2004 for blasting Chinese fans and questioning whether Beijing should host the 2008 Olympics.
Earlier, Velappan had denied he wanted to unseat Bin Hammam so he could return to AFC House. - AFP