SEOUL, July 30 (Reuters) - A towering figure in Asian football and smooth operator in diplomatic circles, South Korea’s Chung Mong-joon will need to sharpen his political elbows if he is to survive the vicious twists and turns of the upcoming FIFA presidential race.
The sixth son of Hyundai conglomerate founder Chung Ju-young and the main shareholder in the world’s biggest shipbuilder, Hyundai Heavy Industries, the 63-year-old told Reuters on Thursday he was the man to clean up the sport’s governing body and give FIFA back its identity.
Chung faces a huge task to beat UEFA chief Michel Platini in the race to replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA president, but he has the deep pockets and international diplomatic skills necessary to sustain the challenge over the next seven months.
A FIFA vice president for 17 years, and fierce critic of Blatter for much of that time, Chung lost his seat on FIFA’s powerful executive committee in 2011 when he was beaten by then-Blatter ally Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan.
Chung, who has an estimated net worth of $1.2 billion according to Forbes, will need to have his wits about him to ensure he is not outmanoeuvred again by his rivals.
A seven-term lawmaker in South Korea, Chung was the first in his family to gain entry to South Korea’s elite Seoul National University. He gained further qualifications from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
While his intellect and international diplomacy skills are without question, some wonder whether he is able to sway support to his side on the biggest stage after failed bids for the South Korean presidency in 2002 and Seoul mayor last year.
While domestically Chung has failed so far to achieve his political ambitions, his legacy as a champion of South Korean football is assured. He was instrumental in bringing the 2002 World Cup to South Korea when it won co-hosting rights with Japan.
Under his 17-year watch as head of the Korea Football Association (KFA), South Korea soared up the world rankings, with Chung helping turn an annual budget from $3 million to about $100 million.
He helped establish the Paju Training Center and hired Guus Hiddink ahead of the 2002 World Cup, watching with pride as the Dutchman steered the Koreans to fourth place on an emotional wave of home support.
He stood down as head of the KFA in 2009 but remains a powerful figure at the association now headed by his younger cousin, Chung Mong-gyu.
Chung describes himself as a serious football fan and keen sportsman, winning medals in national equestrian competitions. He broke his right knee playing football and his left shoulder skiing.
The fight for the FIFA presidency may leave him with more scars. (Reporting by Peter Rutherford; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)