Asian confederation chief sets sights on Fifa presidency

AFC boss Sheikh Salman Ebrahim Al Khalifa heads Fifa's third-largest confederation.
AFC boss Sheikh Salman Ebrahim Al Khalifa heads Fifa's third-largest confederation.

KUALA LUMPUR • The head of Asian football is poised to announce a bid for the Fifa presidency in a move that would dramatically reshape the election race.

Sheikh Salman Ebrahim Al Khalifa is expected to make a formal announcement soon and would be a serious contender given his position as the leader of Fifa's third-largest confederation.

A bid by the Bahraini royal would be another major blow to already suspended vice-president Michel Platini, whom he formerly backed for the Fifa job, and his Asian rival Prince Ali Al Hussein of Jordan.

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

Despite mounting sleaze claims and criminal charges against senior figures, including Blatter, Fifa elections are still scheduled for Feb 26 with Platini among the candidates who have until Oct 26 to register.

It is a situation that could leave the way clear for the soft-spoken Sheikh Salman, who was a staunch backer of the corruption-tainted Blatter until recent months.

The sheikh is also an unshakeable supporter of Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup, whose controversial bidding process was the subject of an internal Fifa investigation.

Backed by Kuwaiti power broker Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah, he won a landslide election in 2013 to succeed disgraced Qatari Mohamed Hammam as president of the Asian Football Confederation.

In April, he strengthened his grip when he won a fresh four-year term unopposed and became a Fifa vice-president.

Sheikh Salman has thrived in his alliance with Sheikh Ahmad.

The latter was elected to Fifa's executive committee at the April congress and is also a major player in the Olympic movement.

Only two continental confederations will have more votes to cast at the Fifa elections than Asia (46).

Both Africa and Europe have 54 votes each.

European football associations will decide next week whether to pick another candidate from Uefa, as an alternative to Platini, to stand in the election.

This comes after the Uefa president was given a 90-day ban by the Fifa ethics committee last week.

On Thursday, Uefa members met at the organisation's headquarters in Nyon to discuss Platini's situation and issued a statement supporting his "right to a due process and fair trial and the opportunity to clear his name".

The Frenchman's suspension relates to a 2011 payment of two million Swiss francs (S$2.9 million) from Fifa to Platini for work he completed in 2002.

Platini has denied any wrongdoing and lodged an appeal against the ethics committee's decision.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline 'Asian confederation chief sets sights on Fifa presidency'. Print Edition | Subscribe