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Friday, May 8, 2009

Close Call for Mr. Hammam by George Das of Asian Football Watch

Editor's Note:

I would like to thank Mr. Das of Asian Football Watch for his very detailed coverage of this event.

All the best wishes to President bin Hammam, President Sheikh Salman, and the AFC.

"The future is Asia."


2008 Asian Football Confederation Annual Award

by George Das of Asian Football Watch, Kuala Lumpur

By the very closest of margins, after one of the most bitter Asian football elections, Mohamed bin Hammam won by a 23-21 voting to be the FIFA Executive Committee member (West Asia).

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president beat Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa in a poll of the 46-member confederation at the AFC Congress at the Mandarin Oriental in Kuala Lumpur.

There were two spoilt votes.

“It’s a very close call in a very democratic election,” said Sheikh Salman, the Bahrain Football Association president, who campaigned on the refreshing platform of “Asia for Change”. “I accept the decision. I believe it is a very clear signal to the AFC management to listen more closely to the voices of the smaller countries.”

Friday’s poll culminated an acrimonious fight for power in which 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.

Sheikh Salman said the result showed that “Asia wants more transparency and fair play in the decision-making process” and he counted himself “a little unlucky not to have got the extra couple of votes”.

Asked about his future plans, he said “my heart is still for Asian football, especially in helping the little-known countries”.

“For the moment, I will continue working as the Bahrain FA president and I will work towards the betterment of Asian football if there are opportunities in the future,” he said.

No doubt, the image of Asian football has been damaged during this campaign and old stereotypical images of bribery, bullying and corruption have been refreshed in the minds of many around the world. Hammam, with his dictatorial-style of “one-man-show” management, bears much responsibility for that and he has some work to do to restore his reputation.

Thankfully, the tone of the AFC Congress took a positive turn for solidarity after an impassioned speech by FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Following worrying calls by AFC countries of election irregularities, Blatter even brought a Switzerland notary and lawyer with him to act as an independent supervisor of the vote, amid fears there could be election-irregularities.

"I call on the AFC to choose your FIFA delegate in the spirit of fair play. I appeal for Asian unity,'' said Blatter.

"I spoke to the two candidates and they both said they will accept the verdict and work for the future of Asian football."

Blatter had been briefed of Hammam’s move to take the AFC headquarters from Malaysia and a plan to sign a 12-year marketing deal with World Sport Group. And on Blatter’s suggestion, Kuwait, which was expected to be barred for not having a properly elected committee, was allowed to take part. Likewise, Afghanistan, Brunei, Laos, Mongolia, and East Timor also voted after concerns that they might be excluded were ironed out.

Kuwait’s respected football statesman Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah summed up Hammam’s close-call win as a “right wake-up call for more transparency”.

“We must have more changes for Asian football and a fairer distribution of rights for every member, regardless of where they come from,” said the AFC executive member.

“The winner here is Asian football as it shows there is a lot of democracy in the AFC. This 23-21 result is a right wake-up call to Hammam.”

The barrage of personal attacks and intimidation that had plagued the election reached a nadir when FIFA vice-president Chung Mong Joon said Hammam was suffering mental problems and acting like the head of a criminal organisation.

Hammam had earlier accused Chung of bankrolling Salman's campaign and had also said he would chop off the head of Korean FA president Cho Chung Yun. He later said the Arabic words he used were not literal, and akin to the English saying "heads will roll".

Hammam, who celebrated his 60th birthday today, said he accepted the “victory with humility and dignity”.

“I promise you that I am going to do more than I have done in the past. For those who chose not to support me today, I also promise them I will do my best to have your confidence and trust in me next time,” he said.

“Let us work towards an united Asia after a divided election campaign. We can resolve our setbacks within the Asian football family.

Asia needs all of us...both camps. The Future is Asia, as the AFC motto goes.”

May 8th, 2009

Released on behalf of Asian Football Watch. For further information please contact GEORGE DAS via email: george@pro-sports.biz

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