x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Is Mohamed Bin Hammam the new face of Fifa?

The president of the Asian Football Confederation is expected to announce a run for the top job at Fifa - currently held by Sepp Blatter. One wonders if he could end the 75-year-old Fifa functionary's 13 years in control when delegates from the game's 208 national federations of the governing body vote on June 1.

Mohamed Bin Hammam, the president of the Asian Football Confederation, is expected to announce his challenge today to Sepp Blatter to become the president of Fifa. It’s anyone’s guess if he can win.
Mohamed Bin Hammam, the president of the Asian Football Confederation, is expected to announce his challenge today to Sepp Blatter to become the president of Fifa. It’s anyone’s guess if he can win.

Sepp Blatter's reign over world football could be about to enter its final phase.

Today, in Kuala Lumpur, Mohamed Bin Hammam is expected to announce that he will run against Blatter for the presidency of Fifa

The Qatari, the president since 2002 of the Asian Football Confederation, could then end the 75-year-old Fifa functionary's 13 years in control when delegates from the game's 208 national federations of the governing body vote on June 1.

Barring a last-minute change of heart, Bin Hammam will offer himself as the champion of transparency and probity, the man who will throw open the windows of Fifa and let everyone look inside.

He will call for "change" in a moment in history when the word resonates so deeply with so many.

He will promise to enact term limits for the presidency, keenly aware of how uncomfortable many in the football world have become with the idea that only two men - Joao Havelange and Blatter - have led Fifa for the past 37 years.

At the Asian Cup in Doha two months ago, Bin Hammam outlined his campaign without actually launching it.

He spoke of how he believed Blatter's 35 years inside Fifa leave him defenceless against charges of cronyism.

He said a term limit of eight years would "allow new people to come into power without hesitation, and new people mean new ideas and new thoughts and pushing the organisation well ahead".

Bin Hammam also said he would make Fifa's financial dealings open to scrutiny. Such as, it would be hoped, the startling 56 per cent rise in 2010 of the salaries and expenses paid to top Fifa executives and executive committee members.

Where did that new £20.3 million (Dh120m) come from, exactly?

Blatter's Fifa is not saying.

Bin Hammam will make an attractive candidate. He has led the Asian federation well. He is articulate in both Arabic and English. He has gravitas. His personality is strong enough that he can make any audience sympathetic to him and his ideas. He is 61 but seems younger; it is easy to mentally categorise him as the hip uncle to Blatter's semi-doddering grandfather, the "tomorrow" to Blatter's "yesterday".

Blatter, however, will not be easy to bring down. One of Bin Hammam's complaints is that long-term presidents eventually find themselves perpetually campaigning for re-election, and the truth is that Blatter has done that all too well.

Most of the major decisions Fifa has made for the past decade seem designed to extend Blatter's presidency.

Consider how he has guided Fifa's grand prize, the World Cup, to South Africa and Brazil, to Russia and Qatar, shoring up his support in sub-Saharan Africa, in South America, in eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Qatar 2022 will be particularly difficult for candidate Bin Hammam to minimise.

While he remained mostly in the background, it was Blatter who celebrated the surprise decision and was harshly criticised for it, from Australia to Japan to the United States. Indeed, it seems unlikely Bin Hammam will be able to count on a united Asian bloc as the foundation of his campaign.

Blatter was Fifa's point man in defending a World Cup in the Gulf. And it was his candidate, Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan, who won an election for a Fifa vice-presidency in January, defeating Bin Hammam's preferred candidate, the incumbent Chung Mong-joon, by a vote of 25-20. Afterward, some observers predicted that the 25 federations who supported the Jordanian would support Blatter in June, as well.

Bin Hammam will need 105 notes to unseat Blatter, and if he doesn't begin with all of Asia's, it is difficult to see him reaching the magic number, perhaps leaving him doomed to reprising the 2002 Fifa bid by the African confederation president Issa Hayatou, whom Blatter crushed by a 139-56 vote.

Several European federations, England most prominent among them, seem ready to support "anyone but Blatter". But where are the rest of Bin Hammam's votes?

Blatter has been a master of patronage. He also has overseen, by means fair or foul, the first US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) revenue year in Fifa history and earlier this month claimed cash reserves of $1.3bn.

It may a global phenomena, this whining about Blatter.

But when it comes time to mark their ballots, will 105 federations choose to toss out the man who was president when Fifa turned into a money machine?

Bin Hammam's candidacy will be the ultimate "put up or shut up" moment. Here is an energetic and appealing alternative to the status quo.

Support him or stop complaining.