AFP prez Bin Hammam retains FIFA executive seat

Kuala Lumpur: Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam narrowly retained his FIFA executive committee seat on Friday after one of the most vitriolic battles regional football has known.

The 60-year-old Qatari, seen as a potential future FIFA president, survived a challenge from Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, winning a tense vote at the AFC congress here by 23 to 21. Two ballots were spoiled.

It culminated a bitter fight for power in which Bin Hammam, who has held the FIFA position since 1996, had threatened to step down as Asia’s most powerful football figure if he was defeated.

Either man needed a simple majority of the AFC’s 46 members nations to win a vote that was taken

after an impassioned speech by FIFA president Sepp Blatter urging fair play. “I expect discipline, respect, and a fighting spirit, but all in the spirit of fair play,” said Blatter. “I spoke to both candidates and they both said they will accept the

verdict and work for the

future of football.”

Despite his victory and attempts on Friday to play down the animosity, Bin Hammam, whose AFC term runs until 2011, faces a difficult few years with the AFC riven by disagreements. The campaign to oust him was led by heavyweights Kuwait, South Korea, Japan, and South Korea and was highlighted by allegations of corruption and vicious personal attacks. So distrustful were some AFC members that Blatter was forced to bring a Swiss notary and lawyer with him to act as an independent supervisor of the vote, amid fears there could be irregularities.

Bin Hammam’s detractors claimed he was dictatorial and that there was no transparency in the organisation’s financial affairs.

They were also concerned about his proposal to move AFC headquarters from Malaysia and a plan to sign a 12-year marketing deal with World Sport Group.

But before the vote, Bin Hammam asked for the agenda item dealing with the plan to move AFC House to be removed, a request which received wide applause. Bin Hammam said he had met Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak Thursday and won a promise that Razak would personally look into the AFC’s conditions for remaining in the country.

Malaysia has hosted the AFC since 1965 and its first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, served as

its president for 24 years. All 46 members of the AFC voted after Bin Hammam asked that Kuwait, which was expected to be barred for not having a properly elected committee, was allowed to take part.

The Qatari said he wanted them to vote in the interests of fair play. Afghanistan, Brunei, Laos, Mongolia, and East Timor also voted after concerns that they might be excluded were ironed out.