Bin Hammam, Blatter’s friend turned foe


After dragging Asian football into the modern era, Mohamed bin Hammam picked the fight of his life by challenging Sepp Blatter, a former ally but now a bitter foe, for the FIFA presidency. Bin Hammam, 61, campaigned on an anti-corruption platform but has now pulled out of the race. The Qatari insisted his decision to withdraw should not be linked to the corruption probe.
Bin Hammam said he felt compelled to halt his candidacy to protect the good name of the sport. “It saddens me that standing up for the causes that I believed in has come at a great price — the degradation of FIFA’s reputation. This is not what I had in mind for FIFA and this is unacceptable,” he wrote on his website. He had previously hinted that Switzerland’s Blatter, who is vying for a fourth and final term as FIFA boss, was behind the explosive allegations against him.
The Asian supremo with the cool manner and regal bearing had promised to introduce more openness within FIFA, which is fighting its own graft claims related to the controversial battles to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Bin Hammam has long enjoyed a reputation as a moderniser in Asian football, having overseen the launch of the AFC Champions League and the admission of Australia into the world’s biggest football confederation. “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.
But his nine-year leadership of the AFC has not been without controversy. In 2009, there were moves to oust him from the FIFA executive committee amid complaints of his “autocratic” style after he upset powerful factions in the regional football body. Bin Hammam fell out with Blatter two years ago. The two men were allies, with bin Hammam one of the driving forces behind Blatter’s campaign for election in 1998. But Blatter reportedly refused to back bin Hammam in his fight for survival in 2009, and publicly slapped down the Qatari’s move to bar New Zealand teams from Australia’s A-League.
The Swiss had played down the threat posed by his rival for the top post, suggesting Hammam did not have support from confederations except Asia. But Hammam’s success in securing the 2022 World Cup for Qatar prompted him to run for the job, though he had to fend off allegations of bribery by Qatari officials, overshadowing the achievement.