Mohamed bin Hammam’s slogan is “Future”, but the coming days look uncertain for the Asian boss whose bid to lead world football left him barred from the sport and fighting bribery claims.
The Qatari departed the FIFA congress in Zurich not as the body’s president, or even as a beaten candidate, but battered and bruised by vote-buying allegations which threaten his hold on regional soccer.
Now the 62-year-old is facing calls for “revolution” from his stand-in as Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president, Zhang Jilong, who appears to have grand plans for the job.
“I am very sad and disappointed over what has happened in the last days,” bin Hammam admitted.
“I will never accept how my name and my reputation have been damaged. I will fight for my rights… Good days bring you happiness, bad days bring you experience.”
It was a dizzying demise for bin Hammam, whose modernising success at the AFC emboldened him to challenge formidable FIFA leader Sepp Blatter.
But he was broadsided by shock bribery allegations — which he strongly denies — and then pulled out of the election race, hours before FIFA’s ethics committee suspended him from football altogether pending an investigation.
Bin Hammam’s last act in Zurich was to protest at not being able to appeal against his ban, which leaves China’s Zhang in charge. If bin Hammam cannot clear his name, Zhang will remain in the post for the medium term.
“The Asian football environment is not that healthy,” Zhang said this week, making clear his wish for sweeping changes. “We need, let’s say, revolution. We need reform.”
While the events of recent days have been seismic for Asian football, they also set back hopes of any reforms at FIFA, which has taken an unprecedented pounding from months of corruption scandals.
Blatter’s unopposed re-election late on Wednesday — by 186 votes out of 203 — was met by a deafening silence in the region, with only Australia keeping up the call for urgent change.
“He has said that he will take on reforming the organisation and he now must do that,” said Australian sports minister Mark Arbib. “President Blatter has a great deal of work to do. He and his organisation have to get on with it.”
But New Zealand Football chairman Frank van Hattum, who was among the large group backing Blatter, said much of the criticism stemmed from “innuendo and the odd unsavoury incident”.
“They have heard the message loud and clear and the humility that came through today said ‘yes, we have made some mistakes and we need to fix this’,” he told Radio Sport in New Zealand.
“In such a large and complex organisation no one can give a 100 percent guarantee that everyone is clean 100 percent of the time.”
Bin Hammam, former head of Qatar’s successful Al Rayyan club, assumed the Asian presidency in 2002 and is credited with introducing an improved continental club tournament, the AFC Champions League.
He also oversaw Australia’s entry into the regional bloc and has been at the helm for three Asian Cups, including the 2007 edition split held in four countries and this year’s competition in his home country of Qatar.
In 2009, he successfully faced down a challenge for his FIFA executive council seat, showing the street-fighting qualities he will now need in abundance.