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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bin Hammam Set to Challenge Blatter as FIFA President

Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Mohammed Bin Hammam will run against FIFA President Sepp Blatter in elections scheduled for June in a move that is certain to expand Qatar’s influence in world soccer, according to a tweet by outgoing FIFA vice president Chung Mong-joon.

Chung’s tweet is the first public confirmation that Bin Hamman, a Qatari national with close ties to the Gulf state’s ruling family, who is locked into a bitter dispute with Blatter, will challenge the FIFA president in a bid to end his 12-year tenure.

"I had lunch with Bin Hammam, the AFC president today,” Chung wrote on his Twitter account. “It seems he will challenge the FIFA presidential election in June.”

World Football Insider quoted a source close to Chung as saying that it was “90 per cent” certain that Bin Hammam would stand against Blatter.

Candidates for the FIFA presidency have to declare before April 1.

Chung is scheduled to step down as FIFA vice president in June after last month losing an AFC election to Prince Ali Bin Hussein of Jordan, a half-brother of Jordanian King Abdullah, a Blatter protégé and Bin Hammam critic.

Some analysts believe that in a demonstration of Arab solidarity Prince Ali may shift his allegiance once Bin Hammam declares formally.

Chung suggested that Bin Hammam would enjoy the support of all 46 Asian federations. “A FIFA president from Asia is a good thing. We all support him,” he said.

A Bin Hammam electoral victory would be a further crowning of Qatar, which in December became the first Middle Eastern state to be awarded the right to host a World Cup. Critics have charged that the tiny Gulf state’s rise despite a soccer tradition or a large fan base is fuelled by its energy-derived wealth.

Blatter on Monday appeared to be anticipating Bin Hammam’s challenge by admitting for the first time that Qatar and Spain and Portugal colluded to trade votes for their respective 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.

The admission casts a shadow over Bin Hammam’s criticism of the FIFA president as well as his calls for greater transparency within soccer’s world body. Bin Hammam has suggested Blatter needed to be replaced to repair FIFA’s image tarnished by a number of corruption scandals.

Blatter also sought to remove a major dispute with European soccer institutions by dropping his suggestions to hold the 2022 World Cup awarded to Qatar in winter to avoid the Gulf state’s scorching summer heat and that other Gulf states should co-host the world’s biggest sporting event.

Blatter’s call for moving the Qatar World Cup sparked sharp criticism in European soccer because it would upset premier league schedules.

Bin Hammam’s candidacy is likely to revive criticism of Qatar’s spending spree that helped it win its bid to host the 2022 World Cup. The spree pushed the envelope of FIFA bidding rules and has prompted calls for a review of those guidelines.

Blatter’s admission of the alleged collusion between Qatar and Spain and Portugal is likely to reinforce those calls.

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