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African Soccer  Chief Seeks FIFA Presidency - 2002-03-18


African football chief Issa Hayatou announced over the weekend that he will challenge incumbent Joseph "Sepp" Blatter for the presidency of the International Football Federation, otherwise known as FIFA. The election will take place during the FIFA Congress held May 28 and 29 in Seoul, two days before the kick-off of the World Cup finals. Mr. Hayatou is bidding to become the first African head of world football.

The job of the FIFA president is widely recognized as the second most powerful one in sports, behind only the head of the International Olympic Committee, which is currently led by Dr. Jacques Rogge. Issa Hayatou announced his candidacy in Cairo, where, for the past 14 years, he has been the president of the African Football Confederation, or CAF.

The 53-year-old Cameroonian is running on a pledge to clean up FIFA's administration. He says if he becomes FIFA president, his office will be open and transparent. Mr. Hayatou has been a strong critic of current FIFA president Joseph "Sepp" Blatter. Mr. Blatter has been under fire in recent weeks for vote-rigging allegations dealing with the 1998 FIFA elections and the multi-million dollar collapse of FIFA's marketing partner.

In Cairo, the President of the European Football Union was among the big endorsers of Lennart Johansson Hayatou's bid.

"Four years ago, I was looking for the FIFA presidency. I lost. It was noted at that time that I had the complete support from Issa Hayatou. He was looking at this defeat as if it was his own. This is not the only reason. Far from it. I have worked together with him on the FIFA executive committee since 1990. He is not only a man of honor, he is also very productive, he is very loyal to football. He knows what transparency means, what loyalty means, what solidarity means. I give him my full suppor,t and I sincerely hope he will have a victory," he said.

In addition to UEFA chief Lennart Johansson, the head of the Asian football confederation, South Korea's Chung Mong-joon, is also backing Issa Hayatou. But a victory by Mr. Hayatou in May is far from certain. The president of the Liberia Football Association, Edwin Snowe, says incumbent Sepp Blatter has done far more for African soccer than Mr. Hayatou.

Mr. Blatter is expected to campaign in Africa in advance of the vote. The FIFA chief says he's looking forward to a clean and democratic election, conducted in the spirit of fair play --the same way, he says, football should be played.

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