As Mohamed Bin Hammam last night began his attempts to win over vital European support for his bid to oust Sepp Blatter as the president of Fifa, a former colleague of the Qatari claimed that football's governing body would be "doomed" if he won.
Bin Hammam, who played a key role in Qatar's shock success in winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup finals, is labelled an "autocrat" who will attempt to "buy up" support in a stinging attack by a long-term ally of Blatter, signalling the start of what is set to be a bitterly contested campaign to lead Fifa.
Peter Velappan was general secretary of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for nearly 30 years to 2007, the body Bin Hammam has led since 2002. He said yesterday: "Fifa will be doomed if Hammam became the president. It would be very detrimental."
Bin Hammam, who arrived in Paris yesterday to attend the Uefa congress, has already stated his intent to reform elements of Fifa, in particular the executive committee, whose members choose World Cup final hosts, in the wake of an extremely damaging and contentious double vote last year to determine where the 2018 and 2022 tournaments would be held. His theme is one of transparency and greater democracy. "We belong to the people – acting on behalf of them," Bin Hammam said.
But Velappen claimed: "These are the very things he has not done in AFC. There is no democracy in AFC."
He added that Bin Hammam's pledge to add extra numbers to the Ex-co – he wants to raise it from 24 to 41 – in pursuit of more transparency was "the joke of the century".
Blatter has been Fifa president for 13 years and the 75-year-old remains determined to see off what is likely to be the biggest challenge to his leadership since 1998. He too is in Paris, where this morning in the Grand Palais he will address the 53 delegates from each of Uefa's associations. Uefa voters make up more than a quarter of the 208 Fifa members so their support is key, although unlike some other confederations they will not vote en bloc.
The last time Blatter was challenged was in 2002 when he saw off the head of the African confederation, Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, by splitting the African vote. Blatter has just returned from Asia which coincided with Bin Hammam's announcement on Friday that he was to stand against a man he still describes as a "friend." It is already proving a far from friendly contest.
Bin Hammam will meet with the Football Association next month to canvass support. Following England's embarrassment at Fifa's hands over the 2018 World Cup vote in Zurich last year, the 61-year-old is likely to be well received.
"I was a supporter of Blatter and I have never regretted anything about that – he has contributed a lot for the development of the game," said Bin Hammam yesterday. "But he has been there a long time. There must be the question: Mr President – when is it enough?
"I will limit myself to a maximum of eight years. If I am elected I will bring the proposal back so that the president of Fifa remains only for eight years. Mr Blatter came wanting eight years, two mandates, then 12 years and three mandates, and now four mandates.
"I am not saying I am the Godfather of football but I don't see anything moving, anything changing."
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