SINGAPORE: Asian Football Confederation chief Mohamed Bin Hammam on Friday ruled out a bid for the FIFA presidency next year, opening the door for Sepp Blatter to run the world game for another four years.
The 61-year-old Qatari is seen as a successor to the 74-year-old Swiss and one of the few people with the potential to unseat him, but he appears ready to bide his time.
"Let me be very clear, I will not run for the next FIFA election. I will be backing Sepp Blatter to remain in office for a new mandate," Bin Hammam told AFP.
His decision not to run follows a similar move by Michel Platini earlier this year. The Frenchman was also considered a key candidate but he will seek a second term as UEFA president instead.
Bin Hammam, a FIFA executive committee member, said he would similarly seek re-election as AFC president next year.
"My aim is to run for the next election of AFC president due at the start of 2011," he said.
"Hopefully I will get the full confidence of all the national associations."
The Qatari, seen as a modernizer, has been AFC chief since 2002 and has overseen the launch of the AFC Champions League and the admission of Australia into the confederation.
After 12 years in office, Blatter has made clear he has no plans on leaving when his term runs out on June 11, 2011, saying he has not finished his mission.
The Swiss was elected FIFA president in 1998 and won a fierce re-election fight in 2002 before being returned unopposed in 2007.
The Asian bloc, the biggest football confederation in the world, wields 46 votes in the presidential election and will play a vital role in deciding whether Blatter continues his reign.
Bin Hammam rocked the boat earlier this year by saying he would like to see an Asian as president of world football’s governing body.
He also said he believed that all FIFA presidents should be limited to two terms. Before Blatter, Brazil’s Joao Havelange led FIFA for 24 years.
His remarks led to tensions between Bin Hammam and Blatter, but by last month they had ironed out their differences and the two powerbrokers appeared together at the Soccerex Asia Forum in Singapore.
"Even with my own brother, the son of my father and mother, sometimes I have arguments and differences. Blatter is not going to be an exception," Bin Hammam said then when asked about their disagreements.
"Even though there are differences sometimes, he is my good friend."
Bin Hammam also congratulated Blatter for his decision to take the World Cup to South Africa, a move many critics thought would backfire.
"I have to put on the record that Blatter’s bet on South Africa has paid off. Much of the credit has to go to his personal efforts and determination," he said.
When the pair next appeared together, again in Singapore, for the launch of the Youth Olympic football tournament this month, it was Blatter’s turn to lavish praise, saying Bin Hammam had changed the face of Asian football.
"In terms of administration and organization, AFC is really professional. From Vision Asia, the AFC Champions League to the development of referees, AFC are doing very well," said Blatter.
"This is all due to the hard work of my friend, AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam. He has made so much effort to take Asian football to new heights. He has contributed so much to the rapid progress of Asian football."