Hayatou pledges five slots to Asia

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 12:00am

FIFA presidential hopeful Issa Hayatou breezed into town yesterday with his South Korean ally, Dr Chung Mong-joon, promising to give Asia five slots in the World Cup finals if he is elected - among other proposals he said were for the good of the game.

Hayatou, who is president of the African Football Confederation and vice president of FIFA, stopped by the SAR on a whistle-stop visit to drum up support in the run-up to the FIFA presidential election. The Cameroonian will go head-to-head with FIFA president Sepp Blatter for one of the most powerful jobs in world sport when the FIFA congress meets on May 28 and 29. Blatter and Hayatou are the only candidates seeking election.

Having breezed through Saudi Arabia, Beijing and Tokyo, Hayatou hopes the Hong Kong Football Association will lend its support to help him get elected - and help remove crisis-plagued Blatter from office.

'As you know, I have made a clear proposal and I won't hesitate to do [implement] these actions. First of all, I will restructure the final teams for the World Cup finals. At present there are 2.5 slots for Asia and I will increase that to five slots if I am elected,' said Hayatou, who has received backing from the English Football Association against Blatter.

'I promise that if I am elected, the [FIFA] president's tenure will be limited to two terms or a total of eight years [as opposed to a life-time if the president is successfully re-elected, as is the case now].'

In a hastily-arranged press conference, Hayatou said he would increase Asia's slots by decreasing the number of South American countries, which presently occupy five slots, going to the World Cup finals. Hayatou reiterated that he found it 'incredible' that the South American confederation has only 10 countries yet five teams compete in the World Cup finals.

Chung, who is also FIFA vice-president, said Blatter could still be considered as FIFA president if he followed Hayatou's proposal of doubling Asia's slots, but countered: 'Mr Blatter reduced the number of Asian teams after the France World Cup from 3.5 to two because he said Asia performed poorly. Do you think he will cut down on the South American slots? You call him and ask him yourself.'

Italy coach Giovanni Trapattoni bolstered Hayatou's case by saying he believes Asian football is ready to make a breakthrough. Trapattoni, whose team will be based in Japan before moving to South Korea if they reach the second phase, said that 40 years of World Cup experience had taught him that the gap between the traditional twin powers of Europe and South America and the rest of the world had narrowed.

The row over the FIFA leadership escalated when FIFA's general secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen recently accused Blatter of criminal mismanagement and nearly half of FIFA's executive committee joined him in taking legal action against the president.

Commenting on the FIFA leadership, Chung said: 'It is high time to clear the FIFA house. Blatter has said that we are saying this because we are seeking election. We are simply taking the minimum measures because if we don't take this action, all of us will suffer from its consequences.'