- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (AP) - Asian soccer chief Mohamed bin Hammam said Friday he will run for the FIFA presidency, posing the first challenge to Sepp Blatter in nearly a decade.

“Today after careful study, consultation and consideration, armed with my love and passion for football, believing that our game is about fair competition, I have decided to contest,” the Asian Football Confederation president said.

Three months after his behind-the-scenes role proved critical in his nation Qatar being granted the 2022 World Cup hosting rights, bin Hammam predicted he has an even chance of taking the presidency away from his former ally Blatter, who has led FIFA for 13 years.

He ended months of speculation about his decision during a news conference streamed online live from the AFC’s Kuala Lumpur headquarters. The announcement met an April 1 deadline to declare himself a candidate.

“My chances, I would say, are 50/50,” bin Hammam said. “Sepp Blatter is a very experienced person and has made a significant contribution to the development of the game worldwide when he was a general secretary and when he was elected as president. The world knows him very well.

“But I also believe there is always a time limit for everything and now the time is for new faces, new blood, new air too. This is actually my message and I hope the voters are going to address these things.”

In a 17-minute speech to announce his challenge, bin Hammam offered to broaden FIFA’s decision-making power and spread its wealth. He proposed creating a new FIFA board to replace the existing executive committee, which some regard as concentrating power in too few hands.

Bin Hammam said the FIFA president should be chairman of a 41-member board, instead of 24, putting forward a plan that would dilute the power of Europe and South America _ soccer’s traditional powers _ while boosting the representation from elsewhere.

Under the AFC chief’s plan, European body UEFA will have 12 members, up from eight, and Conmebol, representing South America, would go from three to four. The other bodies would double their representation: the African body CAF and the AFC from four to eight each, the CONCACAF group of North, Central America and Caribbean from three to six and Oceania from one to two.

He described FIFA as being too bureaucratic and centralized, questioning its efficiency in technical and legal areas. He hoped to set up a new transparency committee, have fair distribution of World Cup revenues and annual grants to FIFA’s 208 members doubled to $500,000. The upper limit for development projects, which provide valuable cash support for smaller nations, should be doubled to $1 million, he said.

The 61-year-old Bin Hammam has long held ambitions to lead soccer’s international governing body, which has had just eight presidents in its 111-year history. All were European, bar the long-serving Brazilian Joao Havelange; Blatter’s predecessor. Stanley Rous, Havelange and Blatter have been the only presidents in the past 50 years.

Bin Hammam primed the 75-year-old Blatter to expect a challenge when he said in February 2010 it was time for FIFA to have Asian leadership.

A month later, he was rebuffed by his FIFA executive colleagues in a motion to limit the terms of future presidents. The motion was interpreted as testing Blatter’s strength. Bin Hammam told The Associated Press that, despite the setback, the “situation can be different” in 2011.

They made peace when Blatter visited the Gulf last April and said the region was ready to host a World Cup. However, Blatter is believed to have backed the United States as the 2022 host. It was defeated by Qatar in the final round of voting.

___

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Lenzerheide, Switzerland and AP writers Sean Yoong and Julia Zappei in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.

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