Qatar’s candidate has pulled out of the race for the FIFA presidency, as the world’s football governing body deals with its gravest corruption scandal.
Mohamed bin Hammam’s decision to withdraw clears the path for incumbent president Sepp Blatter to continue in the job that he has held for 13 years.
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Bin Hammam announced his withdrawal hours before Sunday’s FIFA ethics hearing, in which he will answer accusations that he had arranged bribes for up to 25 presidential voters on a campaign visit to the Caribbean.
Qatar won the bid last December to host the World Cup for 2022, beating Australia, Japan, the US and South Korea. The allegations, however, are not related to the Gulf state’s bid.
Blatter and FIFA vice-president Jack Warner also stand accused of corruption in Sunday’s ethics probe.
‘Degradation’ of FIFA
The ethics committee had the power to remove Blatter from standing in Wednesday’s presidential election, but bin Hammam’s withdrawal sets the stage for the 75-year-old Swiss man to be re-elected unopposed, as he was in 2007.
“It saddens me that standing up for the causes that I believed in has come at a great price – the degradation of FIFA’s reputation. This is not what I had in mind for FIFA and this is unacceptable,” Bin Hammam said in a statement on Saturday.
“It saddens me that standing up for the causes that I believed in has come at a great price – the degradation of FIFA’s reputation”
Qatar’s Mohamed bin Hammam
“I made the decision to run for the FIFA presidency because I was and remain committed to change within FIFA.
“I set out my goals and ambitions clearly – to further the cause of democracy within FIFA – through a commitment to transparency and accountability; through a commitment to expand the number of officials and nations involved in decision-making processes.
“In addition to this, I wanted to spark a debate about change in FIFA. For the good of football, I wanted the future to be bright for our world’s governing body and for it to adapt to the ever-changing world we live in today.
“However, recent events have left me hurt and disappointed – on a professional and personal level.
“I cannot allow the game that I loved to be dragged more and more in the mud because of competition between two individuals.
“The game itself and the people who love it around the world must come first. It is for this reason that I announce my withdrawal from the presidential election.”
Al Jazeera’s Lee Wellings, who is covering the ethics hearing in Zurich, Switzerland, said the withdrawal of Bin Hammam “is perhaps not a surprise when you consider the intense pressure that he has been under this week”.
With Bin Hammam now out of the presidential race, Blatter should be re-elected as president for a fourth term by acclamation of the 208-member Congress, but that is by no means certain and depends on what happens on Sunday.
Vice-president Warner, head of the confederation for North and Central America and the Caribbean, predicted in his native Trinidad & Tobago on Saturday that a “football tsunami” was about to strike soccer’s beleaguered governing body.
All three men are being probed over a report by another FIFA executive committee member, Chuck Blazer, of the United States, relating to a meeting between Caribbean officials, Warner and Bin Hammam in Port of Spain earlier this month, linked to the election campaign.
The report said there had been possible violations of the FIFA ethics code, including “bribery allegations”.
Bin Hammam and Warner have denied wrongdoing and Blatter said “the facts will speak for themselves”.
Scott McIntyre, a football analyst who has worked extensively with the major FIFA players in Asia, said the timing of Hammam’s withdrawal from the race is surprising.
He called the decision “a dramatic and an unexpected twist”.
“He is always appeared to me as an honest guy and has always been open with the media,” McIntyre told Al Jazeera from Sydney, Australia.
He said he did not expect Qatar’s bid to host the World Cup in 2022 to be affected, even if the ethics committee found evidence of wrongdoing.
“There’s nothing in this current case certainly that has any relevance, as I understand, to the World Cup bid for 2022,” McIntyre said.
In his statement, Bin Hammam said: “I will not put my personal ambition ahead of FIFA’s dignity and integrity.
“Besides, I believe my candidacy has been a catalyst for debate within FIFA and has brought change to the top of the agenda.
“I pray that my withdrawal will not be tied to the investigation held by the FIFA Ethics Committee as I will appear before the Ethics Committee to clear my name from the baseless allegations that have been made against me.”