At 61, Mohammed Bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Confederation, knows his quest for the FIFA presidency, up for grabs on June 1 in Zurich, is the last throw of the dice for his career.
Seeking to topple the politically-savvy Joseph Blatter, incumbent president of FIFA for 13 years, and its general secretary for 17 years before that, is an extremely tall, some say impossible, order, even with the immense wealth at the Qatari’s disposal.
“If I do not go for what I believe today, there will be no other chance for me. I cannot be going for this seat at the age of 70,” Bin Hammam confessed to me a week ago, during an exclusive chat at his Kairaba Hotel suite in Banjul, capital of The Gambia.
“FIFA is a great organisation and many people have been touched by it in one way or the other, because our sport is the most popular in the world.” “However, FIFA has been facing too many accusations about corruption, even though I have not seen any corruption within FIFA. We need transparency and more teamwork [within the executive committee], which is missing.”
But Bin Hammam’s 15-year stretch on the FIFA executive committee, playing a key role within it, leaves him with very little room to play the reformer’s card, as he is the ultimate insider, I tell him.
Not surprisingly, he strongly disagrees. “Having been a member of the Asian Football Confederation for eight years before I became president, I know, from my own experience, that if you are not in the leading position, you cannot influence the major decisions.” “For sure, I have raised my voice so many times [in the FIFA executive committee] over the last 15 years and have opposed the president within the four walls of our meeting rooms, but without being at the top, one cannot make the needed changes.” “I never thought of challenging Sepp Blatter, as I have been with him from the beginning. But he told us that he only wanted two terms. But those two finished and he asked for and got a third term and now wants a fourth. It looks like things are not going to end anywhere.”
Travelling to The Gambia, not exactly one of world football’s premier destinations, Bin Hammam sought the votes of FA bosses from the region, who met under the auspices of the West African Football Union (WAFU), Nigeria being a conspicuous absentee at this event.
“I am here to campaign amongst friends and brothers. I have conveyed my worries and problems to you and always tried to find joint solutions to our problems,” he told the WAFU delegates.
But the decision of Bin Hammam - and the other Asian members of the FIFA executive committee - on July 6, 2000, to vote for Germany as the 2006 World Cup host, instead of South Africa, severing a longstanding football bond between the two continents, left a particularly sour taste in African mouths.
When I confronted him seven years ago in Malaysia, on what many, including CAF president Issa Hayatou, saw as a betrayal of that alliance, Bin Hamman did not express regret over his choice.
“The four [Asian members of the FIFA executive committee] left the voting room with clear consciences. We made a decision that was in the best interest of world football.” And the passage of time has done nothing to alter his view.
With Blatter and Joao Havelange, his predecessor, spending a total of 36 years in the presidential chair, many have called for an insertion of an eight-year limit, consisting of two terms of four years, into FIFA’s statutes.
“Frankly speaking, I agree with that,” Bin Hammam says, “because the game has developed so much and I think a president should be able to achieve his goals within that period.”
For Bin Hammam’s thoughts on the controversial award of the 2022 World Cup to his homeland of Qatar, his response to widespread allegations of his “undue influence” in Africa and his deeper feelings on Blatter, read next week’s ‘Point Blank’ for the final part of this special.