The gloves are off in Qatar’s escalating feud with FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
Asian Football Confederation chief Mohamed bin Hammam, a Qatari national unlikely to act without at least tacit government backing, lashed out on Monday, charging that Blatter had served too long as head of soccer’s world governing body and needs to be replaced.
Bin Hammam’s remarks are the latest sign that he may be preparing to challenge Blatter in May when the 74-year old FIFA president is up for re-election if no other credible challenger emerges. “I did not make up my mind yet,” Bin Hammam told the Associated Press. “I would rather wait and see.”
Bin Hamman has suggested in the past that his ambition was to become FIFA president, but has always left unclear whether he feels that the May election is the right time to do so.
“I’m actually seeking to see competition within FIFA for the post. I would prefer to see two candidates proposing themselves, or maybe more than two proposing themselves to the congress of FIFA,” Bin Hammam said. “Competition is good for the organization, whether president or any other posts. Competition is the best way to make the organization vibrant and alive.”
FIFA and Qatar have been at loggerheads since the world body last month awarded Qatar the hosting of the 2022 World Cup. Blatter supported by UEFA President Michel Platini has been pressuring Qatar to move the 2022 tournament from June/July to January because of the oil-rich emirate’s extreme summer temperatures and to allow other Gulf states to co-host the world’s biggest sporting event.
Bin Hammam has rejected the suggestions of both Blatter and Platini, but hinted in the Associated Press interview that he and Qatar were reserving final judgement until after the May election of a new FIFA president.
“We in FIFA should stop acting on behalf of people who are going to be in power in the future,” he said. “There will be a different executive committee in FIFA which will be in power that day. Let them decide what is best for 2022,” Bin Hammam said. “Why are we rushing? Why are you in hurry to decide something for 2022?”
Qatari rejection of Blatter’s pressure forced FIFA last week to issue a statement quashing talk of holding the Qatar World Cup in the winter rather than the summer because of the Gulf state’s scorching summer heats. The statement acknowledged that such a proposal could only come from Qatar itself and that no such suggestion had been put forward.
The FIFA statement was in part prompted by fears that a change in the terms of Qatar’s successful bid in which it beat Australia, the United States, Japan and South Korea, could force it to cancel Qatar’s victory and hold a new bid for the hosting of the 2022 World Cup.
The dispute over whether the tournament should be held in Qatar’s average temperatures of above 40 degrees Celsius has divided European club soccer. England Football Association General Secretary Alex Horne sided with Bin Hammam, warning that switching the Qatar tournament from June/July to January as a 'logistical nightmare' because it would require a winter break in the Premier League.
On the other hand, Philipp Lahm, who captained Germany at last year's World Cup, said it would be "madness" to stage a summer World Cup in the Middle East and FIFA's inspection team said conditions were a potential health hazard to players and supporters.
Qatar has insisted that the fierce summer heat will not be a problem as all its stadiums will be air-conditioned.
In the Associated Press interview, Bin Hammam charged that Blatter, who has been in office since 1998, had contributed to perceptions of FIFA as corrupt and non-transparent.
The awarding of the bid to Qatar has been tarnished by unproven allegations of illicit deals to enhance Qatar’s chances of winning as well as the Gulf state’s almost unprecedented spending spree for its campaign that while legal has raised questions about loopholes in the FIFA rules governing the bidding process.
“Everybody is going to accuse us today as corrupted people because maybe people see Mr. Blatter has stayed a long time in FIFA. Thirty-five years in one organization is quite long time. No matter how clean you are, honest or how correct you are, still people will attack you. You are going to be defenseless. That is why I believe change is the best thing for the organization,” the Associated Press quoted Bin Hammam as saying.