Hammam survives, Australia sighs

09 May 2009 | 10:00 - By Jesse Fink

The Asian Football Confederation president retains his seat on the FIFA Executive Committee, but only just.


It was no accident Mohamed Bin Hammam, the besieged president of the Asian Football Confederation, chose to dress to impress at the AFC Congress taking place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this week.

When he greeted FIFA president Sepp Blatter for the cameras at the opening of the congress during the week the Qatari with the salt-and-pepper beard chose a white suit with a black shirt and white-and-black striped tie. In a room full of little grey men in grey suits, he stood out like Tony Montana.

But in heading off the challenge of Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa to nab that coveted seat on FIFA's executive committee Bin Hammam needed to look like he was a cut above – and the Qatari bigshot has meant nothing but business for months now.

For a guy who appeared to have been fighting a losing war against his Bahraini rival, Bin Hammam's victory is impressive. You have to hand to him for his wiliness and guile.

But politics is a grubby game and football politics especially.

Just what kind of collateral damage Bin Hammam has caused in his tooth-and-nail scrap with Sheikh Salman and his cronies will only emerge in time.

To all appearances, it's business as usual in the AFC. But in reality the organisation has been damaged by the ugly powerplay that preceded the vote on Friday.

As my friend John Duerden wrote for Goal.com today: "It was not pretty – the Qatari sounded childish and bitter and it is worrying that Asia's top official is seemingly content to allow the name of the continental game to be dragged through the mud in front of the world's press – so much so that the guardian of fair play in football Sepp Blatter felt the need to step in."

Further, from the 23-21 result, it is clear there is a large rump of voting members that have no confidence in Bin Hammam and he cannot count the full support of some of the biggest hitters in the confederation, including Japan and South Korea, which publicly backed the Bahraini.

As the defeated Sheikh Salman remarked afterwards: "We have 21 countries unhappy. We have to ask why, and the president needs to win back their confidence."

Bin Hammam has also backtracked on one of the key reforms of his reign: moving the headquarters of the AFC outside of Malaysia, where it has been based since 1965. Agenda 13 of the congress was thus summarily scrapped even before the delegates had sat down.

Expedient? Yes. Pragmatic? Yes? In the interests of Asian football? Debatable.

In parochial terms, however, Australia can be glad Bin Hammam survived.

Football Federation Australia and its chairman Frank Lowy have been very vocal and conspicuous supporters of the Qatari ever since Australia became the 46th member of the AFC on New Year's Day 2006 – and, to his credit, Bin Hammam has deserved that loyalty for all the doors he has opened for Australian football in Asia.

Hammam's continued tenure as the AFC's top dog ensures the Australia 2018 bid stays on track and Australia's interests are served, but his exclusive support for our World Cup ambitions are far from guaranteed.

In fact the way the votes were split and camps were divided between Bin Hammam and Sheikh Salman suggests this 60-year-old cat with the Miami Vice wardrobe has a lot of spade work to do with the countries within the AFC that are our stiffest competition in World Cup bidding: Japan and Korea.

If we think Hammam is Australian football's best friend for perpetuity, we should think again.

To serve his own ends he's changed his mind before and he will change it again.

That, as we all well know and football knows better than most, is politics.

:: For more Fink musings on the big issues in football, check out Half-time Orange on The World Game.

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Comments (1)

12 May 2009 11:39 AEST


From: Stanmore

World Cup bid

It will be interesting to see now if Bin Hammam throws his support behind one particular 2018 World Cup bid from Asia, and if indeed that bid will be Australia's.

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About this Blog

The Finktank is more of what you've come to expect from Jesse Fink, The World Game's enfant terrible, but with a bent on the big issues in sport. No sport, no personality, no subject, is off limits. 

Jesse Fink Jesse Fink is one of Australia's most popular football writers and sports columnists. He is the author of the book 15 Days in June: How Australia Became a Football Nation (Hardie Grant, $29.95) and writes twice a week as "Half-Time Orange" for The World Game and weekly for ESPN Star Sports in Singapore. He lives in Sydney.