Bin Hammam's FIFA hopes dissipate amid Qatar corruption charges
Mohammed Bin Hammam's chances of defeating Sepp Blatter, the president of world soccer body FIFA, in next week's presidential election are rapidly dissipating.
Mounting controversy that Qatar won its bid to host the 2022 World Cup and reports that FIFA asked Mr. Bin Hammam, a Qatari national who heads the powerful Asian Football Confederation (AFC), to withdraw his candidacy, constitute significant setbacks for Mr. Bin Hammam's already fizzling election campaign.
Much in line with his lackluster presidential campaign compared to Mr. Blatter's multi-million dollar public relations effort, Mr. Bin Hammam failed to get in front of the cart by responding pro-actively to the allegations against Qatar. As a result, he has been unable to erase sneaking suspicions that he may have been aware of any wrongdoing on Qatar's part.
Mr. Blatter has fueled those suspicions by confirming that Qatar had a vote swap agreement with Spain and Portugal who jointly bid unsuccessfully for the 2018 World Cup. Mr. Blatter last week asserted that Qatar's alleged bagman in the supposed bribing of two African FIFA executive committee members had been introduced to FIFA by Mr. Bin Hammam.
Mr. Bin Hammam, who maintains close ties to the Qatari ruling family, has denied that Qatar had employed bribery to win its World Cup bid and has also denied any association with alleged wrongdoing.
For their part, Qatari 2022 bid officials on Monday denied the allegations of corruption and sought to discredit an “embittered” whistleblower who is set to give evidence to FIFA on Wednesday. They also for the first time said that Qatar would welcome an independent investigation.
In a lengthy statement, Qatari officials called the claims of payments to FIFA executive committee members “distressing, insulting and incomprehensible”.
In a separate statement, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, who is overseeing the presidential election, dismissed claims that he had Mr. Bin Hammam to withdraw from the presidential race against Mr. Blatter.
German media reports said that Mr. Valcke had advised Mr. Bin Hammam that it would be better for him to withdraw in light of the corruption allegations against Qatar.
“Contrary to some media allegations I want to make it very clear that neither I nor anyone else at FIFA have asked Mr Mohammed bin Hammam at any point to withdraw his candidature for the upcoming FIFA presidency election,” Mr. Valcke was quoted as saying by Britain's The Guardian newspaper.
Mr. Valcke said he had not met Mr. Bin Hammam since their last brief encounter on May 1 at a Latin American soccer gathering in Paraguay.
Mr. Bin Hammam, a self-made multi-millionaire who earned his money in real estate and construction, has waged a low-level campaign on a platform of mostly slogans with no indication of how he would implement change in FIFA, troubled by multiple corruption scandals.
Mr. Hammam, who has relied to a great extent on social media like Twitter and Facebook, has called for greater transparency in FIFA and blames Mr. Blatter, who is seeking a fourth term as president, for the organization's tarnished image.
Two tweets on Monday - "Time for a fresh approach" and "Time to restore pride in FIFA" -- are hardly the kind of substance that will inspire delegates to next week's FIFA general assembly that he is the man to turn around the organization's fortunes.
(James M. Dorsey is a senior researcher at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. He can be reached via email at: