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Bin Hammam survives bitter battle

ASIAN soccer chief Mohamed Bin Hammam yesterday refused to bow to pressure and change his leadership style after narrowly winning an acrimonious election for his FIFA executive committee seat.

On what should have been a day of landmark celebration, the Qatari cut a lonely but defiant figure after beating Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa 23-21 in a ballot of Asian Football Confederation members to retain the seat.

"Definitely I won't change my style of administration," the defiant Bin Hammam, marking his 60th birthday, told reporters.

"I had full democracy and transparency as president. I respect statutes and principles and rules. I never practise anything beyond that. This was never about my work, this was just a fight with people who have something personal against me."

Bin Hammam, who had vowed to step down as AFC president if defeated, had suffered an onslaught of personal attacks by his foes, who accused him of being a dictator who had divided Asian soccer.

He said he was saddened by the lack of support from his allies, many of whom had credited him with initiating a wave of reforms since taking over as AFC boss in 2002.

"My best friends let me down more than the ordinary people," he said. "The ordinary people owe me nothing and I am so happy to see I was so much loved.

"The result of the election gave me the biggest birthday gift today. It was tough ... a lot of people picked me up, sometimes I was very demoralised and tense, people came forward from everywhere and supported me."

He said he wanted a fresh start and to make peace with his opponents after months of bitter campaigning.

"I want to forget the about the past - past is past and I'm only concerned about the future from now on," he said. "I want to start a new page and refocus my work on football. I would really like to re-establish a good relationship with (my rivals) for the benefit of Asia."

Sheikh Salman, a Bahraini royal, who delivered the first challenge to Bin Hammam in his 13 years on the FIFA executive committee, said he hoped the narrow escape would convince the Qatari to change.

"It sent a clear message that so many countries are not happy with his management and things need to be done," he said. "I hope these mistakes will be corrected and things will be done the right way."

He said the AFC, under Bin Hammam, needed to win back disaffected members of the polarized 46-nation confederation.


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