Dan Martin, AFP
Last updated: 25 August, 2011

Former Asian football chief appeals lifetime ban

Ousted Asian football chief Mohamed bin Hammam said on Thursday he had appealed his lifetime ban over accusations that he sought to buy votes in this year’s FIFA presidential election.

Writing on his personal blog, bin Hammam vowed defiantly to fight on in an ugly split with FIFA President Sepp Blatter that has tarnished the football body’s reputation and highlighted corruption problems in the sport.

“I will continue my battle until I prove my innocence and that my suspension was a political decision and an absolute abuse of power to deprive me of my right to contest for FIFA presidency,” bin Hammam wrote on his personal blog.

The former head of the Asian Football Confederation was banned from the sport for life in July after he was found guilty of trying to buy votes in the FIFA leadership contest by offering Caribbean football officials $40,000 each.

The 62-year-old Qatari’s suspension by FIFA on May 29 over the accusations had led to his withdrawal from the world football body’s election, handing Blatter a fourth consecutive term in office.

Since then, Bin Hammam has railed at Blatter and FIFA, calling his ban “politically motivated” and suggesting he was framed to ensure Blatter’s re-election.

He said Thursday that FIFA’s actions in the matter were “deeply flawed” and he had little hope of a successful appeal.

But he indicated that if necessary he would take his case all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) — the highest sporting judicial authority in the world — in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“I have submitted my case to the FIFA appeals committee, not hoping for justice to prevail but as a protocol to enable me to obtain access to the Court of Arbitration of Sport,” he said.

“After all, the panel from the appeals committee is decided by my opponent and in this case, as previously, the judge is the rival,” he added, in an apparent reference to Blatter.

“Therefore, I should not exaggerate my hope for a fair decision.”

Hammam said he expected the appeals process to take about two months. He indicated his appeal was submitted with the past week, but did not specify.

AFP was not immediately able to reach bin Hammam, while staff at the Kuala Lumpur-based AFC said top officials were on holiday.

Bin Hammam has denied trying to influence the presidential vote, saying gift-giving was a routine practice in FIFA and that exchanging presents with other members of the organisation should not be regarded as attempted bribery.

However, he has said he had nothing to do with offering cash-filled envelopes to officials of the Caribbean Football Union.

The controversy has highlighted allegations of FIFA corruption and sparked calls for reform of its governance structure, which anti-graft watchdog Transparency International earlier this month called “opaque”.

The vote-buying accusations also have subsequently raised questions over the sensational decision to award Qatar the right to host the 2022 World Cup, controversially beating Australia, the United States, South Korea and Japan.

Bin Hammam, a former chairman of the Qatar Football Association (QFA), had played a key role in pre-vote lobbying for his home country’s bid.

An extended fight by bin Hammam could distract from Blatter’s attempts to “steer the FIFA ship into clear, transparent waters” as he put it, particularly if it were to lead to further allegations of graft at the world football body.

Bin Hammam’s ban has created a power vacuum at the top of the game in Asia.

Besides uncertainty over its leadership, the AFC is also battling match-fixing and betting scandals in China, Malaysia and South Korea.

Acting AFC president Zhang Jilong said last month the ban came during “a difficult period”, referring to “multiple challenges” including the match-fixing cases.