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Asian boost as Blatter closes on FIFA win

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BLATTER-RUSSIAMANAMA, April 30- Sepp Blatter closed on a fifth term as FIFA president on Thursday as a key ally, Asia’s soccer boss, won new powers and silenced dissent at a regional congress in Bahrain.

The Swiss was assured of strong Asian backing by Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa, who was re-elected unopposed at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) gathering.

The Bahraini royal became a FIFA vice president into the bargain and he showed his growing clout when he slapped down a South Korean protest over voting procedures.

Blatter had warmly praised Asia in his speech to an audience which included his FIFA presidential rivals Prince Ali bin al Hussein, Michael van Praag and Luis Figo.

And Shaikh Salman returned the favour when he renewed Asia’s pledge of allegiance which he made at last year’s extraordinary congress before the World Cup in Brazil.

“Dear president, please be assured that the Asian football family stands firmly behind you as the AFC member associations decided unanimously in Sao Paulo last year,” Shaikh Salman said in his closing remarks.

“We look forward to working together with you in the future.”

Whether all of Asia’s 46 votes go to Blatter on May 29 is open to question but at football’s final regional congress before the vote, the 79-year-old looked unassailable.

– Confucius –

However Blatter, who can expect nearly unanimous support from 54-vote Africa, was not his usual ebullient self as he made his last major speech to voters before the FIFA polls.

Quoting Confucius in a meandering address which earned loud but not thunderous applause, he insisted Asia was the “most important continent” for FIFA.

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

Blatter praised Asia’s development in football, calling it vindication for FIFA’s policies and handouts which have helped secure him strong backing in the region.

“(Chinese philosopher) Confucius said, if you want to help your friend or your brother, don’t give him a fish but teach him how to get fish,” Blatter said.

FIFA’s second-biggest confederation after Africa is a stronghold for Blatter, with common ground including support for the much-criticised 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

He has close ties with Shaikh Salman, who came to power in 2013 after his Qatari predecessor Mohamed bin Hammam was banned from football over corruption allegations.

After winning a four-year term unopposed, together with a FIFA vice presidency which has been absorbed into the role, the Bahraini significantly strengthened his position.

South Korea’s Chung Mong-Gyu fell foul of the newly empowered sheikh when he tried to protest against a split vote for seats on FIFA’s executive committee.

Shaikh Salman would not let the Korean football chief speak and he then announced: “If anyone would like to make a statement, it has to be by written request.”

The row stemmed from a move to divide voting for three FIFA executive committee seats into a ballot for one two-year term, and a separate poll for two four-year stints.

While Chung lost out in the eventual voting, Shaikh Salman’s ally and Kuwaiti powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad al Sabah was elected to the two-year term unopposed.

The influential Olympic Council of Asia and Association of National Olympic Committees boss is also firmly behind Blatter, another sign that the FIFA presidency is his.

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