AFC boss confident of power struggle success

BANGKOK - Embattled Asian soccer chief Mohamed Bin Hammam expects to overcome a hostile challenge for his FIFA executive committee seat in upcoming elections, which he sees as a vote on his leadership.

The powerful Qatari, who has vowed to quit as Asian Football Confederation president if unseated, believes he has raised the level of the Asian game and will retain his place on world soccer's top panel of officials after May's polls.

"The (FIFA) position is seen as a vote of confidence on my part and my personality," Bin Hammam told Reuters in an e-mail.

"If I lose the FIFA seat it means that the majority of (Asian) associations are not happy with my performance. I do believe, though, that I have represented Asia well at international level in the best way I could."

Bin Hammam has never faced a challenge for his place on the FIFA committee since winning the West Asian seat in 1996.

His future is now in jeopardy, however, after Bahraini soccer president Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa announced plans to contest the seat.

Bin Hammam sees Al Khalifa's candidacy as a cleverly hatched plot to force him from power and has pulled no punches in accusing the Bahraini of being a stooge for well-heeled East Asian officials desperate to oust him.

"I do have reason to believe something is going on from information I have received," said Bin Hammam, who recently caused outrage by saying he would "cut off the head" of South Korean officials he claims are colluding to topple him.

It was a comment he later said was a misinterpreted Arabic metaphor.

"This is something that will be revealed in good time and if it is necessary," he added.

FIERCE CRITICS

Bin Hammam has been credited with a number of reforms, including the AFC's Asia-wide "Vision" grassroots development programmes and its Goal Project, which has helped provide soccer facilities for cash-strapped countries.

His critics, however, say they are tired of his autocratic leadership style, accusing him of mismanaging the AFC and chiding him for his attempts to move the body out of Kuala Lumpur, its home for the last 43 years.

The man once touted as a future FIFA president said he had served the region well and had successfully boosted the profile of the flagging Asian game.

"AFC had no voice in the international arena before. We never had representatives at international level to fight for our causes.

"That changed after I became a FIFA member. Asia is now taken seriously... Asian opinions have never been taken for granted after I was elected to the FIFA executive committee."

"Because of my best efforts, we have today four-and-a-half places in the FIFA World Cup. If I was not president and a FIFA member, we would never have had the chance to win these places."

He rejected claims he had created rifts among the AFC's 46 member countries and took a swipe at long-serving former secretary-general Peter Velappan, his most fierce and vocal critic.

"I don't know which part of my administration I have mismanaged," he said.

"In my opinion, I have turned the organisation from being the property of Velappan and partners to an organisation of international repute that serves all of Asia."


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