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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Will the AFC head Bin Hammam see sense and give the Wellington Phoenix a football lifeline?

While the Wellington Phoenix continue to go from strength to strength on the football field - a large dark cloud looms in the shape of AFC boss Mohammad Bin Hammam.

Currently, all the Australian A-League sides have a contract on the table for a 10-year license - except one team of course. The Phoenix have been offered a one-year license extension because of jurisdictional problems brought up by Bin Hammam and the AFC.

Ever since New Zealand had the audacity to beat AFC side Bahrain 1-0 in a two-legged World Cup Qualification playoff, Bin Hammam has had his eyes fixed upon the Wellington Phoenix club that provides a much needed professional route for New Zealand's fledgling football talent.

Significantly, The Phoenix have a large number of local New Zealand players within the squad, and are providing vital professional football experience to New zealand players and thus improving the skill levels of the New Zealand national side.

And THAT is a concern to Bin Hammam and the Asian Football Confederation which had previously assumed that having 4 direct qualifiers to the World Cup plus a playoff against the Oceania Confederation was the same thing as having FIVE direct qualifiers.

Bahrain's demise at the hands of New Zealand was a shock to the Gulf, and the whole of the AFC, and within weeks Bin Hammam was saying that the Phoenix should not be playing in the A-League, or if they contractually must, then they should not be allowed to classify New Zealand players as "locals", only Australian players can be "local".

There - clearly within view - is Mr Bin Hammam's real objective. To prevent New Zealand football from developing. To prevent New Zealand being a threat to Asian football.

It's pure self-interest of course - but why should we be surprised?

Self-interest and cronyism is the way that FIFA has been running itself for the last dozen years under the reign of Sepp Blatter - who survived a leadership vote on the strength of African Confederation backing in 1998 and promptly "arranged" for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa - (ahem) after failing in 2000 when New Zealand's Charlie Dempsey scuttled the 2006 World Cup bid and voted for Germany instead.

There are those that say that Bin Hammam may be the man who finally replaces Blatter, when the Swiss 74 year-old's grasping hands are finally wrenched from the crown and cahflow of the FIFA presidency, and so Bin Hammam is a powerful man to deal with.

Football Federation Australia (FFA), who run the A-League have been arguing for the continuation of the Phoenix, and the positive effects on football within this remote geographic region, but with a bid for the 2018 or 2022 finals coming up - will the FFA really want to cross swords with this future football power-broker ?

Mr Bin Hammam visits Australia this week, and FFA chairman Frank Lowy has a a couple of clear points to make. Stick with the Kiwis and explain why it makes sense for the Phoenix to play professional football in this region - and to negotiate AFC support for an Australian World Cup Finals hosting bid.

Let's hope that the two aims are not mutually exclusive, and that footballing common-sense will prevail, but with the murky politics and vast sums of money that move in World Football today that's only a 50/50 chance.

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