Mohamed bin Hammam’s withdrawal from Fifa’s presidential election has cleared the path for Sepp Blatter to continue his reign as head of football’s world governing body uncontested despite being faced with its gravest corruption crisis.
The Qatari challenger announced his withdrawal on Sunday, hours before the start of Fifa ethics hearing in which he will answer accusations that he had arranged bribes for up to 25 presidential voters on a campaign visit to the Caribbean.
Blatter and Fifa vice-president Jack Warner also stand accused of corruption in Sunday’s ethics probe.
The ethics committee has the power to remove Blatter from standing in Wednesday’s presidential election, but Bin Hammam’s withdrawal should clear the way for the 75-year-old Swiss to be re-elected unopposed, as he was in 2007.
“Recent events have left me hurt and disappointed — on a professional and personal level,” Bin Hammam wrote on his personal website. “It saddens me that standing up for the causes that I believed in has come at a great price — the degradation of Fifa’s reputation. This is not what I had in mind for Fifa and this is unacceptable.
“I cannot allow the name that I loved to be dragged more and more in the mud because of competition between two individuals. The game itself and the people who love it around the world must come first. It is for this reason that I announce my withdrawal from the presidential election.”
Bin Hammam decided to run for the presidency after playing a key role in Qatar winning the rights to host the 2022 World Cup.
“I pray that my withdrawal will not be tied to the investigation held by the Fifa ethics committee as I will appear before the ethics committee to clear my name from the baseless allegations that have been made against me,” Bin Hammam said.
At the end of an astonishing week at Fifa’s palatial slate and glass headquarters in Zurich, the ethics committee is scheduled to deliver initial findings at 6pm local time (4pm GMT) on Sunday .
The ethics probe opens days of scheduled meetings involving Fifa’s 208 national members before their annual Congress on Wednesday.
The ethics panel will examine evidence provided by Chuck Blazer, Warner’s American number two at the Concacaf regional body.
Blazer delivered a file that sparked an explosive round of allegations, denials and accusations of conspiracy among his Fifa executive committee colleagues in the final days of campaigning.
Blatter, Bin Hammam and Warner passed up invitations to attend the year’s most eagerly anticipated match on Saturday, the Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United in London, to focus on their legal defence.
Qatari challenger Bin Hammam and Warner, a 28-year veteran at Fifa’s high table, are accused of arranging bribes for up to 25 presidential voters on a campaign visit.
Caribbean Football Union members were allegedly offered $40 000 each at a May 9-10 conference in Trinidad, where Warner is a government minister.
Bin Hammam has acknowledged paying travel and accommodation expenses, and conference costs, but denies vote-buying.
‘I will hold my head high’
Instead, he implicated Blatter’s camp in a plot to remove him from the election contest, and fought back by successfully bringing the Fifa president into the ethics case.
According to Bin Hammam’s formal complaint, Blatter broke Fifa “duty of disclosure” rules because he was aware via Warner that payments had been arranged and “had no issue”.
Warner dismissed suggestions that the evidence file compiled by John Collins, a former United States federal prosecutor who is now a member of Fifa’s legal committee, could end his career within football’s ruling body.
“Why should [I] be hanged now and by whom? The American Chuck Blazer? His American lawyer John Collins? Give me a break guys,” Warner told reporters at Trinidad’s Parliament.
“I will hold my head high to the very end because I am not guilty of a single iota of wrongdoing. Que sera, sera. I am not remotely bothered.”
Two Caribbean Football Union staffers from Trinidad, Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, have also been summoned to the Fifa ethics hearing.
Namibian judge Petrus Damaseb will chair the hearing, and present its decisions at a press conference, after Swiss ethics committee chairperson Claudio Sulser removed himself because he shares nationality with Blatter. American member Burton Haimes also stepped aside because of longstanding links with Warner and Blazer.
The panel hearing the four cases on Sunday will be composed of at least three of the remaining 11 retained members, who include Australian commentator Les Murray and former France international Dominique Rocheteau. Norway, Panama, Papua New Guinea and Senegal are also represented.
Their duties could continue into next week.
Fifa’s administration was also assessing allegations leveled in a British Parliamentary inquiry that implicated Warner and five other Fifa executive committee members in seeking bribes and inducements during bidding for 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting rights.
Blatter succeeded Brazil’s Joao Havelange, defeating then UEFA president Lennart Johansson at the 1998 FIFA Congress.
But after facing a challenge from Issa Hayatou in 2002, Blatter was re-elected unopposed for a third successive term in 2007. – Sapa-AP