KUALA LUMPUR // A former top official of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) criticised Mohamed bin Hammam yesterday for challenging Sepp Blatter for the Fifa presidency, saying the organisation would be "doomed" if the Qatari wins.
Peter Velappan, a Blatter ally who was the AFC's general secretary from 1978 to 2007, said bin Hammam's pledge to bring "new blood" into the leadership of world football was "the joke of the century."
The Malaysian's comments underscore bitter divisions that could increasingly become public following last week's announcement by bin Hammam, the AFC president, that he would run to replace the 75-year-old Blatter.
"Fifa will be doomed if Hammam became the president," Velappan said. "It would be very detrimental."
Bin Hammam announced his candidacy on Friday, mounting the first serious challenge to the Fifa president in nearly a decade. Bin Hammam was travelling in France yesterday and could not immediately be reached for comment, according to a representative of AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
Velappan claimed that bin Hammam had led the AFC like "an autocrat" since becoming president of the organisation in 2002 and was insincere in his pledge to bring more democracy, transparency and integrity to Fifa.
"These are the very things he has not done in AFC," he said. "There is no democracy in AFC."
He added he believed bin Hammam would try to "buy up" support to win the June 1 vote in Zurich. "He is definitely an underdog but you can't rule out his influence," Velappan said.
Bin Hammam recently spearheaded Qatar's winning bid for the 2022 World Cup. The 61-year-old still needs the formality of being nominated by one of Fifa's 208 national federations to run for presidency.
"Blatter needs this [fourth term as president] to fight corruption in football, including Fifa," and to tackle the problem of illegal betting, Velappan said. "This is not the time to challenge."