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Qatar official upbeat despite loss

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Defeated in an election Thursday to join the FIFA executive committee, the head of the 2022 World Cup organizing committee said tournament preparations won't be damaged.

A seat for Hassan Al Thawadi on FIFA's decision-making board would have strengthened Qatar's ability to protect its interests ahead of the tournament, especially if the widely proposed idea of moving to winter dates is discussed.

However, the Asian Football Confederation on Thursday voted 28-18 for its newly elected president, Sheik Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain, to also take the vacant FIFA spot.

"It's not a blow at all," Al Thawadi said at a briefing that was upbeat and diplomatic about suggested regional political reasons contributing to his defeat.

The elections formally replaced Mohamed bin Hammam, who FIFA first suspended in May 2011, six months after helping his native Qatar win the 2022 hosting rights.

"Previously we didn't have members in the executive committee," Al Thawadi said of the 25-strong FIFA panel. "In the coming months people will see the progress being made."

Al Thawadi acknowledged other options for a place in FIFA.

One of Asia's four elected delegates, Vernon Manilal Fernando of Sri Lanka, got an eight-year ban from FIFA this week for unspecified breaches of its ethics code.

FIFA and the AFC could agree to seek an interim replacement while Fernando appeals the sanction, and Al Thawadi would be a strong candidate to complete a mandate which expires in 2015.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has also suggested that continental allocation of seats on his board could be reviewed. That process would inevitably challenge Europe's eight guaranteed seats, as developing regions seek what they regard as a fairer share of influence.

"All options are open," Al Thawadi said. "The discussions about the number of seats will always be on the table. Now it's the responsibility, in terms of having a constructive decision, of the representatives of Asia to deliver on Asia's potential."

The 34-year-old lawyer might struggle to get support from the new AFC leader.

With the Gulf now represented at FIFA by Jordan, through Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, and Bahrain, Sheik Salman declined to promote Al Thawadi's candidacy if an interim vacancy becomes available.

"We would like to see a good balance between all regions," said Sheik Salman, who also joins Worawi Makudi of Thailand as a FIFA delegate. "The Qatar World Cup is a responsibility for us all (in Asia). It doesn't have to be a Qatari who is in the FIFA seat to serve it."

After the euphoria of Qatar's spectacular World Cup success in December 2010, Al Thawadi said his first individual campaign was "exhilarating."

"It's always easy for you to sit down and promote your country," he said. "But when you're sitting down talking about yourself you're always concerned about, am I crossing the threshold of arrogance? Maybe it's because it's my first race and I still feel a bit awkward."


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