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Tue 22 Mar 2011 12:03 PM

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Bin Hammam says soccer body's reputation at stake in vote

Soccer needs to prove it’s clean after corruption allegations overshadowed World Cup bidding last year, AFC chief says

Bin Hammam says soccer body's reputation at stake in vote
FIFA president Joseph Blatter (R) with AFC president Mohammed Bin Hammam (Getty Images)

The man challenging
Sepp Blatter for soccer’s top job said the sport needs to prove it’s clean
after corruption allegations overshadowed World Cup bidding last year.

Mohamed Bin Hammam,
head of the Asian soccer federation, is trying to oust Blatter, who has been
FIFA president for 13 years. Soccer’s governing body had to fight accusations
of corruption as recently as December’s vote for the host countries for the
2018 and 2022 World Cups. Two members of its decision- making body and other
officials were suspended following an investigation of media reports that votes
could be bought.

“The world has heard
a lot about corruption in FIFA,” Bin Hammam, a Qatari, said in an interview on
Monday in Paris. “I hope both Mr Blatter and myself will prove to the world
that we are democratic, we are fair, we are sticking to our principles and our
regulations.”

Bin Hammam, 61,
declared his candidacy last week. He’ll take on Blatter, a 75-year-old Swiss
national who’s run soccer since 1998 and who was last challenged in 2002. The
deadline for candidatures is midnight on March 31, and FIFA’s 208 national
associations will be polled June 1 in Zurich.

The presidency of
FIFA is one of the most powerful positions in world sports. The four-yearly
World Cup is worth billions of dollars and is sport’s most-watched competition.
Politicians including Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, UK Premier David
Cameron and the Emir of Qatar were among those that lobbied FIFA members for
the right to host the tournament in December. Russia won the right to host the
2018 World Cup, while Qatar will hold the 2022 event.

Bin Hammam, who
became a millionaire in the construction industry, helped fund the 1998
campaign that brought Blatter to the presidency. He says he decided to run
after talking to soccer officials, including some of the heads of the sport’s
six regional bodies, presidents of national federations and top- ranking
executives.

“People think it’s
too long for Mr Blatter and the change is going to benefit FIFA,” Bin Hammam
said in Paris, where he’s traveled to attend the annual congress of European
soccer’s governing body, UEFA. “I don’t think Mr Blatter can beat me easily and
I don’t think I can beat him easily.”

Blatter, who’s been
with FIFA since the 1970s, hasn’t commented on his rival’s candidature, and
didn’t respond today to e-mailed requests for comments. Bin Hammam said he
traveled to FIFA’s Zurich headquarters earlier this month to tell Blatter “face
to face” about his intention to stand.

“I promise you he didn’t kick me out of his office,” said Bin Hammam, smiling.
“I hope it’s a fair competition and that we remain friends whether I win or he
wins.”

In his election
manifesto Blatter’s rival said he’d double the $250,000 each national
association receives from FIFA, which had revenue of more than $4bn between
2007 and 2010. He’s also promised to replace the 24-member FIFA executive
committee with a 41-member FIFA Board in an effort to reduce the power of
individual officials and improve the organization’s standing.

“The name of FIFA,
the image of FIFA is always under criticism,” he said. “Few people taking huge
decisions which affect millions and millions in the world. So maybe by
expanding this, putting in place transparent committees will calm people’s
views and give trust again to FIFA.”

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