Hammam wins election to retain FIFA seat

KUALA LUMPUR: Mohamed Bin Hammam won the vote to retain his seat on the FIFA executive committee by just two votes on Friday, defeating challenger Sheik Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa at the Asian Football Confederation Congress.

After two votes were deemed spoiled and inadmissible, the 46 nation AFC Congress voted in favor of the AFC president 23 votes to 21 against his Bahraini opponent.

"You have really shown the world the meaning of democracy," Hammam said.

"It was really a close competition. To those who supported me, I promise I will do more than I have done," he said. "To those who didn't support me, I promise I will do more to gain your trust and confidence." The Qatari businessman had said he would resign as head of the AFC if he had lost the election.

The election for the spot on the FIFA executive committee - the body which chooses World Cup hosts - has been preceded by a bitter and aggressive campaign in recent weeks, with each camp accusing the other of corruption and buying votes.

Opponents of Hammam accepted the vote, but said the narrow margin of victory put the president on notice to improve his performance.

"I am happy that a message has been delivered through this general assembly, 23-21 is a very close number," Sheik Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, president of the Kuwait Football Association, said. "That means a big message for the president. The message is you have to do more. More cooperation (is needed) in Asia." Shortly before the vote, Hammam reversed his decision to bar the KFA from taking part. His about-face on Kuwait's involvement came after the Court of Arbitration for Sport late Thursday gave authority to the other 45 Asian football nations to decide Kuwait's voting rights. Hammam originally ruled Kuwait was ineligible to vote because its football association was being run by an interim body.

Hammam's win will be regarded as a major setback for FIFA vice president Chung Mong-joon of South Korea, the principal backer of Sheik Salman's election bid.

Chung and Hammam have a long history of animosity, which reached new levels of antipathy during the campaign. Both have been considered as possible future FIFA presidents. While Chung outranks Hammam within FIFA, the situation is reversed within the AFC.

In a long running verbal slanging match, Chung on Thursday accused Hammam as "acting like the head of a crime organization. It looks like Mr. Hammam is suffering from mental problems. I want to advise him to consider going to hospital." Prior to Friday's vote, Hammam aimed to placate opponents by dropping his contentious push to move the AFC headquarters from Malaysia to Qatar.

The fractious election campaign prompted FIFA president Sepp Blatter on Friday to plea for more co-operation in Asia.

"I appeal to the congress for the unity of the Asian family.

Show the world that here culture is written in capital letter.

Culture is respect ... Fair play," Blatter said. "I do not want to see a divided Asia. I want to see a unified, responsible and proud Asia."