FIFA Candidate Says Soccer Body’s Reputation at Risk Going Into Election

The man challenging Sepp Blatter for soccer’s top job said the sport needs to prove it’s clean after corruption allegations overshadowed World Cup bidding last year.

Mohamed Bin Hammam, head of the Asian soccer federation, is trying to oust Blatter, who has been FIFA president for 13 years. Soccer’s governing body had to fight accusations of corruption as recently as December’s vote for the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Two members of its decision- making body and other officials were suspended following an investigation of media reports that votes could be bought.

“The world has heard a lot about corruption in FIFA,” Bin Hammam, a Qatari, said in an interview yesterday in Paris. “I hope both Mr. Blatter and myself will prove to the world that we are democratic, we are fair, we are sticking to our principles and our regulations.”

Bin Hammam, 61, declared his candidacy last week. He’ll take on Blatter, a 75-year-old Swiss national who’s run soccer since 1998 and who was last challenged in 2002. The deadline for candidatures is midnight on March 31, and FIFA’s 208 national associations will be polled June 1 in Zurich.

The presidency of FIFA is one of the most powerful positions in world sports. The four-yearly World Cup is worth billions of dollars and is sport’s most-watched competition. Politicians including Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, U.K. Premier David Cameron and the Emir of Qatar were among those that lobbied FIFA members for the right to host the tournament in December. Russia won the right to host the 2018 World Cup, while Qatar will hold the 2022 event.

Ties

Bin Hammam, who became a millionaire in the construction industry, helped fund the 1998 campaign that brought Blatter to the presidency. He says he decided to run after talking to soccer officials, including some of the heads of the sport’s six regional bodies, presidents of national federations and top- ranking executives.

“People think it’s too long for Mr. Blatter and the change is going to benefit FIFA,” Bin Hammam said in Paris, where he’s traveled to attend the annual congress of European soccer’s governing body, UEFA. “I don’t think Mr. Blatter can beat me easily and I don’t think I can beat him easily.”

Blatter, who’s been with FIFA since the 1970s, hasn’t commented on his rival’s candidature, and didn’t respond today to e-mailed requests for comments. Bin Hammam said he traveled to FIFA’s Zurich headquarters earlier this month to tell Blatter “face to face” about his intention to stand.

‘Fair Competition’

“I promise you he didn’t kick me out of his office,” said Bin Hammam, smiling. “I hope it’s a fair competition and that we remain friends whether I win or he wins.”

In his election manifesto Blatter’s rival said he’d double the $250,000 each national association receives from FIFA, which had revenue of more than $4 billion between 2007 and 2010. He’s also promised to replace the 24-member FIFA executive committee with a 41-member FIFA Board in an effort to reduce the power of individual officials and improve the organization’s standing.

“The name of FIFA, the image of FIFA is always under criticism,” he said. “Few people taking huge decisions which affect millions and millions in the world. So maybe by expanding this, putting in place transparent committees will calm people’s views and give trust again to FIFA.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in Paris via the London newsroom at tpanja@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net.

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