Sheikh Ahmad coy about who should succeed Blatter

KUALA LUMPUR: As the candidates hoping to succeed FIFA's outgoing president Sepp Blatter continue to lobby for support, the political kingmaker who could have a big influence on who gets the job says world soccer has more to worry about than picking its next boss.

Having been conspicuously quiet on the topic of who he thinks should lead FIFA when Blatter stands down next year Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait told Reuters that FIFA's problems were much bigger than just the leadership.

Rather than worry about who the next chief will be, Sheikh Ahmad said FIFA's top priority was getting its house in order before the Feb. 26 election.

"I think the first thing we have to see is that the reforms are going in the right direction," he told Reuters at the International Olympic Committee's session in Malaysia on Monday.

"I think FIFA needs reforms before anything else."

Although he keeps a relatively low public profile, Sheikh Ahmad is one of the most influential people in sports politics, holding key positions on both the International Olympic Committee and FIFA.

A former officer and oil minister in Kuwait, Sheikh Ahmad joined the IOC in 1992, and has risen to the role of president of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) and president of the powerful Association of National Committees (ANOC).

Earlier this year, he extended his influence into world soccer when he was voted on to FIFA's executive committee, elected unopposed as one of Asia's representatives.

Mooted as a possible FIFA president himself one day, Sheikh Ahmad has not thrown his hat into the ring to replace Blatter, leaving the other applicants vying for his endorsement.

Although FIFA has never elected an Asian as its president, the world's most populated region has a big influence on soccer's global governing body because of the high number of votes it gets.

Frenchman Michel Platini is considered the early favourite to win the election next February but two Asian candidates could possibly challenge him.

Jordanian Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, who stood against Blatter at the last election, has said he will run again, and has been joined by South Korean billionaire Chung Mong-joon.

Asia's soccer chief Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa last week called for the region to unify behind one candidate, but stopped short of saying who.

Asked by Reuters whether he wanted Asia to back Platini or one of the Asian candidates, Sheikh Ahmad was coy, again insisting FIFA had bigger issues to sort out.

"It's too early to speak about anything," he said.

"Of course most experts will be always happy to support him(Platini) but now we have to focus on the reform of the future."