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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bin Hammam withdraws from FIFA presidential race


Asian Football Confederation (AFC) chief Mohamed Bin Hammam has withdrawn his candidacy in world soccer body FIFA’s presidential election that is mired by accusation of corruption against Mr. Bin Hammam and incumbent Sepp Blatter.

Mr. Bin Hammam’s announcement in a statement on his website came hours before he, Mr. Blatter and three other FIFA officials are scheduled to be questioned in Zurich on Sunday by FIFA’s ethics committee. Mr. Hammam’s surprising decision is believed to have been taken in consultation with his lawyers with whom he has been huddled for the past 48 hours.

“Recent events have left me hurt and disappointed,” Mr. Bin Hammam, a Qatari FIFA executive committee member said. “The game itself and the people who love it around the world must come first. It is for this reason that I announce my withdrawal from the presidential election.”

Bitter infighting between Mr. Blatter, who has head FIFA for the past 13 years, and Mr. Bin Hammam, a Qatari national with close ties to the Gulf state’s ruling family, that produced the FIFA investigation has cast a shadow over the organization’s presidential election scheduled for June 1, the second and last day of FIFA’s general assembly.

Mr. Bin Hammam campaigned for the election on a platform that calls for greater transparency within FIFA and blames Mr. Blatter for the organization’s tarnished image. FIFA has witnessed a series of corruption scandals in recent months with 9 of its 24 executive committee members accused of corruption or improper behavior.

Two of the nine were banned last year after having been taped by British newspaper The SundayTimes soliciting bribes.

The corruption charges include allegations that Qatar may have won the right to host the 2022 World Cup by bribing at least two of FIFA’s executive committee. The investigation into Mr. Bin Hammam and Mr. Blatter could lead to a cancellation of the FIFA executive committee vote last December that awarded the tournament to the Gulf state. Qatar has denied that it employed bribery in its successful bid campaign.

In the investigation, Mr. Bin Hammam and fellow board member Jack Warner stand accused of handing out about $2 million in cash to Caribbean soccer officials labeled as development of the sport but intended to buy their support for the AFC chief’s candidacy.

The investigation was sparked by allegations by FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer that Messrs. Bin Hammam and Warner had made the offer to Caribbean Football Union (CFU) members at a meeting on May 10 and 11 in Trinidad.

Mr. Bin Hammam asserted earlier that the timing of the accusations so close to the FIFA presidential election suggests they were part of a plan to “damage” him and “force him to withdraw as a candidate for the FIFA presidency.”

Messrs. Bin Hammam and Warner have denied any wrongdoing and Mr. Bin Hammam has threatened to take legal action if he is not cleared of the charged.

Mr. Blatter was summoned for questioning by the FIFA ethics committee at Mr. Bin Hammam’s request.

“I pray that my withdrawal will not be tied to the investigation,” Bin Hammam said on his website. He said that he planned to attend today’s hearing “to clear my name from the baseless allegations that have been made against me.”

Mr. Blatter, in a May 26 column on the Inside World Football website, said that the charges against Messrs. Bin Hammam and Warner, who oversees the sport in the Caribbean, “brought him no joy.” He also said that claims that the matter was masterminded by him were “ludicrous and completely reprehensible.”

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