/ 16 April 2009

Blatter demands fair play in AFC leadership row

Fifa president Sepp Blatter on Thursday demanded all sides play by the book in an increasingly bitter battle for power inside the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

The head of the sport’s world governing body made the comments as relations between AFC president Mohamed bin Hammam and his chief rival, Bahrain’s Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, plummet.

Shaikh Salman, Bahrain’s Crown Prince, is challenging Bin Hammam for his seat on Fifa’s executive committee, with the winner decided at the AFC Congress in Kuala Lumpur on May 8.

Qatar’s Bin Hammam, accused by his opponents of being a dictator, says he will step down as AFC chief if he loses the Fifa seat, despite his term not expiring until 2011.

The battle, which both sides claim to be winning, has become increasingly political among the powerful factions within the AFC’s 46 member nations, with Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia all opposed to Bin Hammam.

On Wednesday, South Korea’s soccer association filed a complaint with Fifa’s ethics committee against the Qatari, accusing him of ”groundless, bitter accusations”.

The row stems from remarks Bin Hammam made in a television interview in February, in which he blasted Korea Football Association chief Cho Jung-Yeon, saying he was ready to ”cut Cho’s head off”.

Meanwhile, the ethics committee is reportedly probing claims by Bin Hammam that the Olympic Council of Asia, via its national Olympic committees, was trying to pressure national soccer associations to vote for Sheikh Salman.

Blatter, a long-time supporter of Bin Hammam, said all sides needed to start showing more respect and discipline.

”Football is a universal sport based on the fundamental principles of discipline and respect for opponents and the laws of the game … underpinned by the values of fair play and ethics,” he said in a statement.

”These principles and values must be applied not only on the field of play, but also in the administration and governance of football, particularly in the area of sports politics.

”And, of course, this includes elections to the governing bodies of football.

”As president of Fifa, it is my duty to remind all members of the Asian football community of the importance of these values in the run-up to the election scheduled for May 8 for the vacant Asian seat on the Fifa executive committee.”

Several key proposals made by Bin Hammam have proved to be controversial, and helped spark the move to oust him.

These include his plan to move the AFC headquarters out of Malaysia, a proposed 12-year marketing deal with World Sport Group and amendments to the AFC statutes that would consolidate his power.

Despite the move to unseat him, Bin Hammam believes he has the numbers to remain at AFC House, claiming this month that he has the support of 33 of the 46 members nations so far, with a two-thirds majority required.

Asia has four seats on the Fifa executive committee — South Korea’s Chung Mong — Joon as vice-president, Japan’s Junji Ogura from East Asia, Thailand’s Worawi Makudi from Southeast Asia, and Bin Hammam.

Bin Hammam’s is the only position up for election. — Sapa-AFP