Bin Hammam: Giving Asian football a new face

KUALA LUMPUR, March 18, 2011 (AFP) - Credited as a moderniser who has changed the face of Asian football, Mohamed Bin Hammam is now eyeing the game's most powerful job after announcing his decision to run for the FIFA presidency.

In what is sure to be a bitter fight, the 61-year-old Qatari will take on FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who has held the post since 1998, at the world governing body's congress in Zurich on June 1.

Asian Football Confederation president Mohammed bin Hammam speaks at a press conference at AFC house in Kuala Lumpur on March 18, 2011. AFP

The announcement came as no surprise with Bin Hammam repeatedly dropping hints that he may stand to reform the scandal-plagued world body.

"People have to try change. Change is good," Bin Hammam said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper in March, when giving his clearest indication yet at the time that he would attempt to topple Blatter.

The Asian football supremo has pledged to introduce more openness within FIFA, which was hit by a corruption scandal after its executives allegedly sold their crucial votes during bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

In a dig at Blatter, he also called for term limits on the FIFA presidency, saying he feared anyone in the job for too long would become more concerned about retaining power than leading the organisation forward.

Bin Hammam himself is in his third term as AFC president but has made clear he will not stand again in 2015.

The Qatari has long enjoyed a reputation for modernising Asian football, having overseen the launch of the AFC Champions League and the admission of Australia into the world's biggest football confederation.

He has also been pushing to make clubs and leagues in the region more commercially viable, urging them to look to the success of England's Premier League as an example.

"Asia, with its huge population, has the most talents, and I believe that the world has yet to feel the vibration of Asian football," Bin Hammam said.

His nine-year leadership at the AFC was not been free of controversy though.

In 2009, there were moves to oust him from his FIFA executive committee seat amid complaints of his "autocratic" style after he upset several powerful factions of the regional football body.

"I know President Bin Hammam very well. We all supported him in the beginning but I think that vote of trust we gave him, I am very sorry to say, we have created a dictator," Bahrain's Sheikh Salman Ebrahim Al Khalifa said at the time.

"He is not for all but for himself. We think there is a line that has been drawn and this line has been crossed. His autocratic decisions have divided Asian football," he added.

Bin Hammam, who denies being a dictator, also fell out with Blatter two years ago. The two men used to be allies, with Bin Hammam one of the driving forces behind the Swiss's campaign for re-election in 1998.

Blatter has previously downplayed the threat posed by his rival in challenging him for the top post, suggesting the Qatari did not have the support from other confederations except Asia.

But Bin Hammam's stunning success in securing the 2022 World Cup for Qatar provided a stimulus for him to contest world football's most powerful position.

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