May 29 (Bloomberg) -- Mohamed Bin Hammam, the sole challenger against Sepp Blatter for the presidency of FIFA, has withdrawn from the contest amid accusations of corruption at soccer’s ruling body.
“Recent events have left me hurt and disappointed,” Bin Hammam, a FIFA board member from Qatar, said in a statement on his website. “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.”
Voting is scheduled for June 1, and at stake is responsibility for leading the body that oversees the global game, including the World Cup, the sport’s most-watched tournament. Blatter has headed FIFA since 1998, taking the top job after working at the group for more than two decades.
Bin Hammam, who heads the game in Asia, and fellow board member Jack Warner are facing an ethics-panel hearing today into a meeting where Bin Hammam is accused of handing out about $2 million in cash to Caribbean officials for “development” of the sport. Bin Hammam and Warner deny any wrongdoing. The ethics panel has also invited Blatter to attend the hearing in Zurich.
“I pray that my withdrawal will not be tied to the investigation,” Bin Hammam wrote in the statement. Bin Hammam said he planned to attend today’s hearing “to clear my name from the baseless allegations that have been made against me.”
Blatter, in a May 26 column on the Inside World Football website, said that the charges against Bin Hammam and Warner, who oversees the sport in the Caribbean, “brought him no joy.” He also said claims that the matter was masterminded by him were “ludicrous and completely reprehensible.”
FIFA, or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, was founded in 1904 and has 208 member associations. The World Cup, held every four years, generates $4 billion in revenue to the organization. A call to FIFA’s headquarters after normal office hours was answered by a recorded message.
The 2018 World Cup was awarded in December to Russia and the next event went to Qatar. FIFA had to fight accusations of corruption surrounding the vote process, with two members of its decision-making body and other officials suspended after an investigation of media reports that votes could be bought.
In his campaign for the presidency, Bin Hammam said he intended to bring greater transparency to FIFA, with the sport needing to prove it’s clean. Bin Hammam has also said that Blatter, who’s seeking a fourth term at the helm, has been in charge for too long.
Bin Hammam, who became a millionaire in the construction industry, helped fund the 1998 campaign that brought Blatter to the presidency. After announcing his candidacy, Bin Hammam said that 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.
The allegations against Bin Hammam and Warner came from U.S. soccer official Chuck Blazer. A file of evidence submitted by Blazer to FIFA General-Secretary Jerome Valcke contains affidavits, e-mail and text message transcriptions and photographs to support the allegations.
Blatter has said that, if elected, the next term will be his final stint on office. The Swiss national will seek to improve FIFA’s reputation and “weed out” corrupt officials, he said earlier this month.
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