(WFI) Sepp Blatter launched his final charm offensive at a confederation congress today before the FIFA presidential election on May 29.

In an address to the Asian Football Confederation in Manama, Bahrain lasting more than 15 minutes, the Swiss sought to woo voters from the 47 member associations. Many are already behind him in his quest for a fifth term as head of FIFA; at last summer’s AFC Congress in Sao Paulo he received a standing ovation.

Instead of talking about the massive cash windfalls from World Cup revenues that will benefit the Asian federations – a theme of his Sao Paulo speech – he used the AFC platform to rally support for his ambitions for a final term.

He spoke about the need for unity and solidarity in world football, a similar message to the one delivered at the UEFA Congress in Vienna last month and CONCACAF and CAF annual meetings in recent weeks.

Blatter mentioned cash benefits for Asia’s federations, in his remarks about the importance of the development the game on the continent.

“For development programs, there is money available,” he said, before quickly adding “ok, I don’t speak of money today.”

Nonetheless, it was a clear campaign tactic with Blatter vowing to continue to help Asian federations benefit from FIFA’s GOAL program and its other funding initiatives if re-elected president.

Notable too were his comments about the potential for Asian football and praise for AFC chief Sheikh Salman who was re-elected for a four-year term on Thursday.

“Asia is the biggest and most important continent in the world and especially for FIFA’s present and future,” he told delegates.

His audience included the three men vying to remove him in the election next month – Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein, Dutch FA president Michael van Praag and former Portugal star Luis Figo.

With 1.6 billion people, two-thirds of the world’s population, he told the congress: “Your task is great, the potential of this game in your continent is immense with professional leagues coming up and the talents you have.”

The FIFA chief had some warm words for his friend Sheikh Salman of
Bahrain, who he helped get elected in 2013 following the demise of the
disgraced former AFC chief Mohamed Bin Hammam. After the cash-for-votes
FIFA presidential scandal in 2011, the Qatari was eventually kicked out
of the game for life for financial mismanagement of AFC funds.

Blatter
praised Salman“for the remarkable sense of organisation and diplomacy
to bring back the boat of the Asian Football Confederation that at a
certain time has been in waters that were not so very clear or clean.

“It is only justice when this congress later on will re-elect you as a the leader of the AFC. You merit big, big compliments.”

Blatter underlined the impressive growth in women’s football on the continent, referencing the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan.

He made a point of paying tribute to Jordanian FA president Prince Ali, but referred to him as a fellow IOC member which he is not. The 79-year-old was confusing him with Sheikh Ahmad, head of the Olympic Council of Asia and president of the association of national Olympic committees, who was in the room. Ahmad is a Kuwaiti IOC member.

Blatter made fleeting reference to the Qatar World Cup, appearing to shrug off the many controversies that have dogged FIFA and the 2022 hosts.

“Qatar 2022 will be played in winter but it will finish on the 18 December,” he said with a smile. “But we don’t put into question now Qatar. First we have to go to another one [Russia 2018].”

Blatter emphasized the importance of solidarity following the earthquake in Nepal that has killed more than 5,000 people.

He went on to thank the national associations of Asia “for the great job you are doing in difficult situations and difficult conditions. You are doing it every day”, without elaborating on the point.

By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson

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