Sheik Salman Elected President of Asian Football
By Graham Dunbar 2 May 2013
KUALA LUMPUR — Sheik Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain won a landslide victory to be elected president of the Asian Football Confederation on Thursday, replacing longtime rival Mohamed bin Hammam.
A half hour later, he also won the vote for the vacant seat on FIFA’s executive committee, inflicting defeat on Qatar World Cup organizing chief Hassan Al Thawadi, taking 28 votes against 18 for his rival.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter suggested that Sheik Salman’s second victory was required by protocol, rather than a snub for Qatar.
“[Tomorrow] they will change the statutes and you will see that they will introduce that the president of the confederation must have a seat” on the FIFA board, Blatter told reporters. “They did it already today.”
In the election for president, Sheik Salman comprehensively defeated two bin Hammam allies — Yousuf al-Serkal of the United Arab Emirates and Thailand’s Worawi Makudi — in a poll of 46 member federations.
Sheik Salman got 33 votes in the first ballot, having needed 31 for outright victory. Makudi got seven votes and al-Serkal six.
When Sheik Salman’s presidential vote tally was announced, his supporters’ cheers in the ballroom of a Kuala Lumpur hotel drowned out the announcement of his rivals’ totals.
The Bahraini royal was elected despite criticism since 2011 that he didn’t do enough to protect national team players from human rights abuses during pro-democracy protests in the island nation.
Still, Sheik Salman’s football career had already prospered despite the turmoil in Bahrain. In late-2011, FIFA and the AFC agreed to appoint him to the 2014 World Cup organizing committee based in Zurich.
Thursday’s election formally replaced Qatari official bin Hammam, expelled from football by FIFA for alleged corruption managing the AFC’s contracts and bank accounts.
“Now it’s my personal duty and moral obligation to lead and reunite our family,” Sheik Salman told delegates in his acceptance speech. “We have to ensure AFC funds, your funds, are being managed according to good principles.”
Sheik Salman gets 20 months in office to complete what was originally supposed to be bin Hammam’s presidential mandate. The next scheduled election is in January 2015, ahead of the Asian Cup in Australia.
Blatter cautioned in a speech before voting that Asian football had more work to do before then to heal its divisions and rebuild its reputation.
“I would identify this restart as an intermediary restart,” Blatter said. “Because then the right start will be in two years in 2015 and now you will have two more years to put your house in such an order.”
Sheik Salman’s victory comes exactly four years after he suffered a setback to bin Hammam in the same city.
Then, bin Hammam retained his FIFA board seat by just two votes after a bitterly fought contest marred by accusations of vote-buying on both sides, plus undue influence on the Bahraini’s behalf by Olympic officials across Asia.
This election saw similar sniping. The Kuwaiti head of the Olympic Council of Asia, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, was seen as a key figure in Sheik Salman’s camp, which alleged that bin Hammam broke the terms of his FIFA ban by lobbying for his friends.
To guard against accusations Thursday, the 46 voters wrote their ballots in open booths on the main stage.
“I have seen total transparency,” Blatter praised afterwards.
Since FIFA first suspended bin Hammam in May 2011 for alleged election bribery, Chinese official Zhang Jilong had served as interim AFC leader and FIFA delegate. He did not seek election for either position Thursday.
Al Thawadi could soon get another route — possibly on an initial interim basis — to a seat at FIFA’s decision-making high table.
FIFA imposed an eight-year ban this week on bin Hammam ally Vernon Manilal Fernando, one of the four Asian delegates on the world governing body’s board.
The Sri Lankan official has said he will appeal, preventing the AFC from seeking a permanent replacement for a FIFA mandate that also runs through 2015. FIFA and the AFC could agree to seek an interim replacement.