BANGKOK - Asian Football Confederation
(AFC) president Mohamed Bin Hammam is facing an unprecedented
challenge to his reign after Bahrain's soccer chief launched a
bid to unseat him from FIFA's executive committee.
Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa rejected suggestions
his candidacy was part of a hostile move against the powerful
Qatari, saying it was his ambition to become a decision-maker
with world soccer's governing body.
"My interest in football is bigger than you can believe and
I have a huge love of the game," Al Khalifa told Reuters in an
interview. "I don't want this to be seen as a challenge to Bin
"I believe in letting democracy in Asia take its course in a
healthy environment and I want to put myself forward for this
position," he said, adding he had no plans to run for the AFC
The challenge is the first for Bin Hammam since he won the
FIFA seat in 1996 and well-placed sources say defeat would
seriously undermine his position as AFC president, a post he has
held since 2002.
Bin Hammam has recently been attacked by top soccer
officials for his plans to move the AFC headquarters out of
Kuala Lumpur, its home for 43 years.
Ties with close friend Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president,
also appear to have strained in recent months.
In October, in a veiled criticism of Blatter's lengthy
reign, Bin Hammam called for a limit on the number of terms
The head of FIFA, though, pulled rank on Bin Hammam after
the AFC president said a New Zealand side should not play in
Australia's A-league. Blatter said the team had his "blessing"
and that it had nothing to do with the AFC.
In an apparent response to Al Khalifa's candidacy, the AFC
on Tuesday proposed four new amendments to its statutes
including one that would make the AFC president one of several
The AFC congress will vote on that, and the four Asian
places on the FIFA executive committee, in May. Al Khalifa can
only contest Bin Hammam's West Asian seat.
"At the end of the day, it's choosing the right candidate, a
responsible person," added Al Khalifa, a senior Bahraini
government official educated in Britain.
"People will judge him (Bin Hammam) by what he did. If
people want to vote for him, they can, or they can vote for me
if they want change."
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