Asian Football Confederation chairman Mohammed Bin Hammam, in a move designed to increase Qatari and Middle Eastern influence in global soccer, announced that he will challenge Sepp Blatter in FIFA presidential elections scheduled for June 1.
Bin Hammam, a Qatari national with close ties to his country’s royal family, has long been critical of Blatter’s undisputed 12-year-old leadership of world soccer’s governing body.
Bin Hamman, whose candidacy comes three months after Qatar won its bid to host the 2022 World Cup, argues that change is needed to shore up FIFA’s image tarnished by a number of corruption scandals.
FIFA insiders believe that Bin Hammam has, at best, a 50 percent chance of defeating Blatter, who is being challenged in an election for the first time.
Bin Hammam said in remarks announcing his candidacy, that he would broaden FIFA's decision-making power to make it more inclusive and would spread its wealth.
Bin Hammam said he would replace the current 24-member executive committee with a 41-member board, by increasing European body UEFA’s quota from eight to 12. This would double the number of seats for Africa and Oceania, as well as for North and Central America and the Caribbean—as well as granting South America an additional seat.
He described FIFA as being too bureaucratic and centralized, and questioned its efficiency in technical and legal areas.
He hoped to set up a new transparency committee, and have fair distribution of World Cup revenues and annual grants to FIFA's 208 members doubled to US $500,000.
The upper limit for development projects, which provide valuable cash support for smaller nations, should be doubled to $1 million, Bin Hammam said.
If elected, Bin Hammam would be the first FIFA president not to hail from European stock. His election would raise the profile of the Middle East and Asia in world soccer.
FIFA under Bin Hammam would likely take a greater political interest in the Middle East. This would involve pressure on Israel to reduce restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinian players, and employing soccer to build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians.
Blatter last month attempted to undermine Bin Hammam’s portrayal of himself as the clean, transparent alternative to an imperious, corruption-tainted leader. Blatter publicly confirmed that Qatar had agreed with Spain and Portugal to swap votes in their respective bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids, in violation of bidding rules.
By doing so, Blatter indicated that he felt concerned enough about a possible Bin Hammam challenge to contradict FIFA’s earlier statements that an investigation had produced no evidence of the alleged vote swap.
Blatter’s attempt to spread the taint has had little impact on Bin Hammam so far, but could come back to haunt Blatter.
James M. Dorsey is a senior research fellow at The National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Socccer blog.