Human rights organizations furious over FIFA bid from Bahraini royal

President of the Asian Football Confederation and Bahraini royal, Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa, would be a serious challenger as the leader of FIFA's second-largest confederation
Mohammed al-Shaikh (AFP/File)
Candidate accused of arresting, torturing althetes who participated in Bahrain's 2011 pro-democracy protests

The head of Asian football is poised to announce a bid for the FIFA presidency, a source told AFP on Friday, in an opportunistic move which would dramatically reshape the election race.

Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa could make a formal announcement as early as Friday and would be a serious challenger as the leader of FIFA's second-largest confederation.

A bid by the Bahraini royal would be another major blow to the already suspended Michel Platini, who he formerly backed, and Shaikh Salman's Asian rival Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan.

FIFA has been thrown into turmoil with outgoing chief Sepp Blatter, former favorite Platini and South Korean candidate Chung Mong-Joon all suspended, and corruption allegations engulfing the world body.

Despite mounting sleaze claims and criminal charges against senior figures including Blatter, FIFA elections are still planned to go ahead on February 26 with Platini among the candidates who have until October 26 to register.

William West (AFP/File)

Shaikh Salman's won a landslide election in 2013 to succeed disgraced Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam as president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

This year, he was re-elected unopposed for a full, four-year term and became a FIFA vice president, assuming the post previously held by his rival and FIFA candidate Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan.

However, Shaikh Salman's bid to become FIFA chief is raising alarms with human rights activists.

His 2013 election win followed a bruising campaign in which he was accused of human rights abuses over a round-up of football players and officials during Bahrain's 2011 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

Activist are highlighting claims that some of the Bahraini althletes identified as pro-democracy protesters in 2011 were imprisoned and tortured.

“Since the peaceful anti-government protests of 2011, which the authorities responded to with brutal and lethal force, the al-Khalifa family have overseen a campaign of torture and mass incarceration that has decimated Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement,” said Nicholas McGeehan, the Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“If a member of Bahrain’s royal family is the cleanest pair of hands that FIFA can find, then the organization would appear to have the shallowest and least ethical pool of talent in world sport,” he continued.

According to Bristish newspaper the Guardian, a letter was sent from the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) to Michael Garcia, then head of the investigatory unit of the Fifa ethics committee, calling for an investigation into Sheikh Salman’s role in “systematically targeting and mistreating athletes who have taken part in anti-government protests”.

In 2011 AP reported that more than 150 athletes, coaches and referees were detained after a special committee, led by Sheikh Salman who was then head of the Bahrain Football Association, identified them as participants in the protests.

BIRD alleged that these actions violated Fifa’s Code of Ethics, but Garcia responded to BIRD in January 2014 to say that the claims were outside the investigatory chamber’s jurisdiction.

“Fifa has a statutory duty to protect the integrity and reputation of football in Bahrain,” BIRD said. However Garcia still refused to open an investigation.

Sayed Al Wadaei, director of advocacy at BIRD said that “in attempting to get rid of its corruption crisis Fifa is now set to replace one allegedly corrupt official with another."

“Salman is accused of involvement in a campaign of abuse against athletes in Bahrain, something FIFA is aware of and has refused to investigate. Salman’s appointment would be absurd,” he continued.

AFP

Shaikh Salman said there was no evidence for the claim. He is seen as a "clean skin” candidate as he has been a part of FIFA executive committee only since 2013 and has not had his reputation tarnished by the decades of corruption within soocer's governing body.

Shaikh Salman als enjoys the strong backing of Kuwaiti powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad al Sabah, who was elected to FIFA's executive committee at the April congress and is also a major player in the Olympic movement.

He would have a major clear-up job on his hands at FIFA, a similar situation to the one he inherited at the AFC when he took over from bin Hammam promising a clean slate.

Peter Velappan, a long-time AFC secretary general from 1978-2007, said he wanted an Asian candidate to lead the world body, but he warned: "Running FIFA is not a small job.

"I don't think many people are happy with him (Shaikh Salman). He is the leader of the AFC but he has not been seen as doing enough for Asia," said Velappan.

The Malaysian veteran, who supports Prince Ali's bid, added "It's been a long time and now is the time for someone from Asia to take over at FIFA."

(with AFP)

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