Bin Hammam era ends, Blatter and AFC move on

Reuters, Thursday 2 May 2013

The removal of the controversial Qatari head marks the end of an uncertain era in Asia's football federation

Mohamed bin Hammam
Mohamed bin Hammam, former chief of the Asian Football Confederation (Photo: AP)

Asian football finally got rid of tainted former leader Mohamed Bin Hammam on Thursday, voting in the Qatari's sworn enemy Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain as president in a move that strengthened the hand of FIFA head Sepp Blatter.

Controversial Sheikh Salman made a mockery of predictions that it would be a tight race by sweeping to a landslide victory against Worawi Makudi of Thailand and Yousuf Al Serkal of the United Arab Emirates, both Bin Hammam allies.

The victory allowed the AFC to finally move on, the door now firmly closed on the sorry Bin Hammam episode which started almost two years ago when the Qatari attempted to oust Blatter from the role of FIFA president.

Bin Hammam withdrew from the election in Zurich in 2011 and was banned for life by FIFA for bribery and vote buying. The Qatari contested the charge in a lengthy battle and two years of uncertainty started as the AFC struggled without the authoritative voice of their powerful and well respected leader.

China's Zhang Jilong assumed the acting presidency but only really pointed out the never-ending issues that confronted the organisation rather than tackling them.

Match-fixing scandals in China, Lebanon, Malaysia, South Korea, allegations of player age cheating in Southeast Asia, corruption by members, violence towards officials, player deaths in Indonesia, the problems kept on coming as the AFC was left waiting for the green light to elect a new leader.

Eventually that day came in March.

Historic Day                             

With the hefty support of the Olympic Council of Asia - which helped another Blatter ally, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, grab a FIFA exco seat in 2011 - few were predicting anything but a Sheikh Salman win prior to the vote.

Nevertheless, the threat of Bin Hammam still lingered and caused concern.

FIFA wrote to the Qatari Football Association just two days before the vote warning it to stay clear of the former official after the Kuwait FA, which has links to the OCA, voiced concerns he was attempting to interfere.

But with both his old pals Worawi and Al Serkal falling way short in the election and another, FIFA executive committee member Vernon Manilal Fernando, being banned for eight years for unethical behaviour this week - Bin Hammam's influence in the AFC appears over at last.

The Qatari responded to Sheikh Salman's victory by publishing a cryptic Tweet in Arabic, using a phrase that is usually reserved for offering condolences.

Blatter was cooing even before the vote.

"It is a historical day because it is a day of election, a day of election in your confederation that has been in a difficult situation during the past two years," the Swiss told AFC members.

"Together you have overcome all these difficulties and now you are in this situation where you are going to have a restart.

"But I would identify this restart as an intermediary restart because then the right start will be in two years in 2015 ... you have two more years to put your house in order."

Blatter will be happy it is his man, Sheikh Salman, who gets to put that house in order and not an ally of his old friend turned foe Bin Hammam.

While Blatter, 77, has previously said he did not plan to stand again for the FIFA presidency he opened a loophole in March by saying that he would step down providing there was a candidate to carry on his legacy.

From Blatter's perspective, it is always handy to have a president who holds sway over 47 votes in case you do choose to stand again.

Sheikh Salman now has two years to try to push through his reform, transparency and integrity manifesto pledges rather than the usual four, another fall-out of the Bin Hammam reign.

The shorter term on offer is a result of Bin Hammam's being replaced halfway through what was the Qatari's third four-year term.

The Bahraini said lessons will be learned.

"We all know in the last two years the issues the AFC has faced and it is our duty to look at them, and what is the proper way to solve them," Sheikh Salman told reporters.

"We should look at details of the AFC's past and try and correct them for the future because we are here to work for the future and not just talk about the past."

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