x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Pro League chief: Fifa election race may yet have a twist

Carlo Nohra says the support of continental federations for Sepp Blatter will count for little and expects a 'big surprise' on June 1.

Carlo Nohra is convinced that Mohamed bin Hammam will benefit from a strong undercurrent of global dissatisfaction with Fifa leadership and that he will be swept by it into the presidency, defeating Sepp Blatter in the election next week.

"I think the world is in for a big surprise on the First of June," Nohra, the chief executive of the Pro League, said yesterday.

Nohra made his comments despite knowing that Blatter, the 75-year-old Swiss, in recent weeks has received the endorsement of five of the six Fifa continental federations, all save Asia's, of which bin Hammam is president.

"We all have to remember that it's a one-country, one-vote system," Nohra said. "Endorsements from a continental body don't mean very much. The confederations talk about a united vote, but I don't think that will be the case on the day. All the associations will vote their preferences regardless of what is said in public."

Nohra readily concedes his is a partisan viewpoint. He worked with bin Hammam at the Asian Football Confederation headquarters in Kuala Lumpur for most of the past decade and is an admirer of the 61-year-old administrator.

He also believes that Fifa is "at a crossroads" and that world football craves new leadership.

"Fifa needs a fresh outlook," Nohra said. "A lot of the office holders in Fifa have been there far too long. Are they the people to carry the sport forward? Fresh blood is needed to keep Fifa as the preeminent sports organisation in the world."

He said bin Hammam should not be tarred by recent stories in the British media suggesting corruption in Qatar's successful 2022 World Cup bid.

"I think it's just mudslinging time," Nohra said. "I don't think that any of it, if proven to be true, reflects on him. He was not a member of the bid committee.

"The fact that all of this is emerging at this juncture just reeks of a cowardly act. People are just concerned that somebody from this part of the world is likely to become Fifa president."

He is convinced that the 208 associations which comprise Fifa will seize the opportunity to sweep out the old.

"There are two candidates, and given what I think of Fifa as a global body today, I personally would support change, and I believe a number of associations would do the same."

He said bin Hammam's support is muted because associations fear "retaliation from Blatter's camp" should the 13-year incumbent win re-election to the presidency. Bin Hammam would not behave in the same way, Nohra said.

"If bin Hammam were elected, he would turn the page. Everyone would be forgiven and we move on."

He said bin Hammam would bring transparency and fiscal responsibility to Fifa and would embrace improvements such as goal-line technology to change a tradition-gripped sport.

Bin Hammam needs 105 votes to defeat Blatter, and Nohra believes that can be achieved, even if he is not sure from where.

"I am convinced that a lot of people are not saying in public what they believe in private," he said.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae