Lambert Matlock elected Oceania soccer president

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Oceania’s scandal-tainted soccer confederation has elected interim president Lambert Matlock to the full presidency on a four-year term.

Matlock, from Vanuatu, assumed the interim role when David Chung of Papua New Guinea, president since 2011, stepped down last year for “personal reasons.”

Chung, who was a member of FIFA’s executive committee, has since been suspended by FIFA from all football-related activities for 6-1/2 years for ethics violations. The adjudicatory chamber of FIFA’s independent Ethics Committee found Chung guilty of having offered and accepted gifts and of acting under a conflict of interest.

Chung was notified of the suspension on March 1.

In a statement Saturday, Matlock welcomed the sanction imposed on Chung, saying the confederation “has undergone immense reforms following the resignation of Mr. Chung in 2018 and we believe we are now on the right path to ensuring ethical breaches, like those of the former president, cannot be repeated.”

But on the day before Oceania Football Confederation’s congress in Auckland at which Matlock was unanimously elected president, Lee Harmon, president of the Cook Islands Football Association and a FIFA council member, was suspended by FIFA for three months for reselling tickets at last year’s World Cup in Russia.

FIFA said it had “mutually agreed” with Harmon on a sanction which includes a US$20,000 fine. The ban means Harmon will miss next week’s FIFA council meeting in Miami, the next council meeting in Paris in June and the FIFA Congress in Paris on June 5.

Harmon is also unable to attend the current OFC congress.

Since taking over as president from Chung last year, Matlock has been charged with instituting reforms to improve transperancy and governance at the governing body.

“It has not been easy,” Matlock said. “Oceania, where I am from, has suffered enough.

“This is why I want to come back and I asked my friends ‘please give me a chance.’

“I believe in myself that I can do it. I stand before you all as humble as I can be, believing that I can help restore Oceania with my capable friends behind me.”

Matlock said he intended to serve only for four years and to leave a legacy “so our children know that we are a strong Oceania.”

“The last six months I suffered, I lost weight. I have 11 — not only 11 — but millions of people, millions of kids who have suffered on the field,” he said.

“But on behalf of Oceania, today I would like to say sorry.

“Over the last six months I did all my best, good and bad, up and down, pressure behind me, but I never retreated. Football has been the centre of my life for 40 years. I played football in 1978 and haven’t quit even today, it’s in my blood.

“Today we have to turn the page. Don’t look back and never retreat.”

Matlock said his priority was to secure two places for Oceania at the 2026 World Cup, likely one automatic qualifier and another that would qualify through a playoffs system. The FIFA council in Miami will consider reforms to the World Cup format which could include its expansion to 48 teams in 2026.

“We have the potential and we want two teams in 2026,” Matlock said. “We need to do that so we can prove to Mr President, that we deserve two places.”