BANGKOK - Asian Football Confederation (AFC) chief Mohamed Bin Hammam has rejected claims his candidacy for FIFA president could split football's governing body and said on Saturday he expected a clean fight with Sepp Blatter.
The 61-year-old Qatari was responding to comments by German World Cup winner and outgoing FIFA executive committee member Franz Beckenbauer that his bid to unseat Blatter was "dangerous" and put the ruling body's unity at risk.
Bin Hammam, who is credited with reforming the fledgling Asian game and helping to secure the 2022 World Cup for Qatar, threw his hat into the ring on Friday, saying it was time for changes at FIFA after 13 unbroken years under Blatter, 75.
"I am a huge fan of Franz Beckenbauer. He is a football legend, one of my favourite people in life. But why should FIFA split if two candidates are running for the presidency?" Bin Hammam told reporters.
"I always respect my competitors. President Blatter is a colleague and friend. I won't create or encourage any environment that will divide the football family."
Bin Hammam was speaking in Bangkok where a workshop involving executives of the major Asian leagues was being held.
A restructuring of FIFA's executive committee, more transparency, increased funding for national federations and introduction of goal-line technology are among his plans if he wins the presidential vote at the FIFA Congress on June 1.
FOCUS ON FANS
Bin Hammam said he had sufficient time to rally federations behind his campaign and his proposals were as much about improving the game for the fans as they were about winning votes.
"It's not about us, it's about football and the fans, we direct football on their behalf," he said.
"This is our focus, they are important to us. Public opinion about how we are working and conducting our business is very important."
Bin Hammam said his campaign would be his last project in football before retiring.
Blatter and Bin Hammam were once close friends and the influential Qatari was a major boon for the Swiss veteran's earlier presidential campaigns but their relationship has soured in recent years.
Despite his soft tone, urbane demeanour and abundant charisma, Bin Hammam is a political battler and will expect a fierce fight with Blatter.
The Asian football boss has been there before. He narrowly survived a move to unseat him in 2008 by a barely known Bahraini royal, Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa.
The campaign was acrimonious and fraught with mud-slinging and jibes, hidden behind smiles and pledges of fair play and respect.
Bin Hammam said he was confident his FIFA campaign would be different.
"I pray we can conduct a fair competition, from all the aspects, if the competition runs fairly," he said. "A fair decision will satisfy me and it will satisfy Mr Blatter."