PtG Article 17.03.2009

Will the most powerful man in Asian football leave FIFA?

Mohammed Bin Hammam, the president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and the most powerful man in Asian football, faces a challenge to his place on FIFA’s executive committee.

Bahrain's Shaikh Salman Ebrahim Al Khalifa will run against the Qatari after Bin Hammam upset factions of the regional body, which encompasses the Middle East and Asia.

"I know president Bin Hammam very well,” Shaikh Salman told news agency AFP. ”We all supported him in the beginning but I think that vote of trust we gave him, I am very sorry to say, we have created a dictator."He is not for all but for himself. We think there is a line that has been drawn and this line has been crossed. His autocratic decisions have divided Asian football."

The AFC has four places on the FIFA ExCo. South Korea's Chung Mong-Joon is vice president and joined by Japan's Junji Ogura from East Asia, Thailand's Worawi Makudi from Southeast Asia but only Bin Hammam’s seat representing West Asia is up for grabs.

Bin Hammam's presidency runs until 2011 but the poetry reading Qatari indicated that if he loses his FIFA seat then he will quit as AFC chief.

In the build-up to Shaikh Salman’s declaration, Bin Hammam accused the Bahrain Football Association president of a plot to take over the AFC presidency.Shaikh Salman, however, claims only to be interested in the FIFA position, adding: ”Whether he stays as AFC president or doesn't stay does not matter to me. I have no intention of running for AFC president."

Bin Hammam has been on the FIFA ExCo 1996 since 1996 and overseen the creation of the Asian Champions’s league and the admission of Australia from the neighbouring Oceania confederation.

His rule is seen as autocratic by some powerful AFC members, including the South Korean federation, who are believed to back Shaikh Salman, after Bin Hammam has proposed changes to the AFC constitution to allow the AFC president an automatic place on the FIFA ExCo. If approved, South Korea's Chung Mong-Joon could lose his seat.

Bin Hammam’s recent changes to the Asian Champions League have also been controversial and could cost him support from smaller AFC members, who are being sidelined from the competition.

From 2009, the Asian Champions League will be expanded to 32 clubs but only sides from the top 11 leagues in Asia will be admitted - all clubs from amateur or semi-professional leagues are excluded.

The AFC, which was founded in 1954, has 46 members but professionalism has only really started to take root across Asia in the last decade and not all members are in the same financial position as oil-rich Qatar and able to support professionalism.

The vote on the FIFA ExCo place will take place at the AFC Congress on May 8 – the day before Bin Hammam’s sixtieth birthday.