By Rob Harris, AP
LONDON — Leaders of the English Football Association (FA) would support any “credible challenger” to FIFA President Sepp Blatter, according to officials with direct knowledge of the situation. Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar has indicated he could challenge Blatter and the FA is considering writing to him urging him to stand against the 13-year incumbent, the FA officials told The Associated Press. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the FA is not making its position public at the moment. “The matter has not been discussed but will be considered by the FA Board when nominations have closed and the FIFA Congress agenda has been published,” the FA said in a statement. Any candidates for the June 1 election at the FIFA Congress in Zurich must be nominated by one of FIFA’s 208 national federations. Bin Hammam, the Asian Football Confederation president who has served on FIFA’s executive committee since 1996, has not formally declared whether he will run or not. Strengthened by Qatar’s winning bid for the 2022 World Cup, he dropped another hint over the weekend that he will meet the end-of-March deadline to enter the race. Referring to the FIFA presidency, the 61-year-old Bin Hammam said on his Facebook account that “competition is the best way to make the organization vibrant and alive.” Blatter was re-elected unopposed for a third successive term in 2007. English FA leaders believe the 74-year-old Swiss has served the world game long enough, the officials with knowledge of the situation said. The FA’s current bitterness toward Blatter stems from England’s failed bid to host the 2018 World Cup. England received only two votes as FIFA awarded the tournament to Russia. As FIFA’s executive committee prepared to vote in December, Blatter spoke of the “evil of the media” in England following investigations into corruption in the bidding process. After England’s bid gained just one non-British vote, acting FA chairman Roger Burden withdrew his candidacy to be the permanent chairman because he “could not trust” FIFA. The FA backed Blatter to succeed Brazil’s Joao Havelange over then UEFA President Lennart Johansson of Sweden at the 1998 FIFA Congress in Paris. But the FA threw its support behind Confederation of African Football President Issa Hayatou in the election four years later. After several changes of leadership at the FA in the last 13 years, the English body is now led by chairman David Bernstein and general secretary Alex Horne. Bin Hammam would become the first Asian president in FIFA’s 106-year history. “If you want to see new faces, then OK, every four years we have an election and we are now in an election process,” Blatter told reporters Saturday in Wales. “If I win, OK. If lose, I say, ‘thank you’ then go away. You will have your new face and then we will see what will happen.
“If there are some other candidates then we will face other candidates. That’s a democratic system.” Bin Hammam has said that Blatter’s longevity in office has contributed to the perception that the organization is corrupt. FIFA has come under fire since several officials were found guilty of ethical violations before the World Cup vote in December. Blatter insisted the organization is not corrupt. “If you speak about FIFA you (use) the word corruption. What does corruption mean? Corruption is cheating,” he said. “But who is cheating? Because once a day someone says that. Our cases that go back years and years have been dealt with by the tribunals in Switzerland. So what should we do against that? “We cannot start an investigation when the Switzerland justice on a higher level has already done it.”