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Controversial Sheikh elected new Asian Football Confederation President

Controversial Sheikh elected new Asian Football Confederation President
May 3, 2013

Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa has been elected as President of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), taking over the governing boidy of Asian football marred in scandal after the resignation of former postholder Mohamed bin Hammam.

Sheikh Salman's election makes Bahrain a key power player in world football just weeks after hosting the Formula One Grand Prix, an event that was again the focus of protests by pro-democracy dissidents.

His landslide victory saw him take 33 of a possible 46 presidential votes available from AFC member nations, defeating Yousuf al-Serkal of the United Arab Emirates and Thailand's Worawi Makudi. A fourth candidate, Saudi Arabia's Hafez Ibrahim Al Medlej, withdrew the night before the election.

Half an hour after winning the AFC presidency Sheikh Salman went on to capture the confederation's vacant seat on world football governing body FIFA's powerful executive committee with 28 votes, 10 ahead of Qatar World Cup Organising Committee President Hassan Al Thawadi.

The Bahrain Football Association President and member of the Bahraini royal family was elected despite concerns that he had committed human rights violations having been accused by human rights groups of orchestrating a purge of players and officials, who said they were arrested, detained, abused, tortured and publicly humiliated under his watch.

Shiekh Salman denied the accusations, saying after his election victory that "if anybody has proof (that) the Bahrain Football Association has violated the statues of FIFA or the AFC let them present it, otherwise we move to the next question."

The Bahraini royal replaces the disgraced Bin Hammam, who after challenging Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency was banned for life by the organisation in 2011 amid allegations of vote buying and financial wrongdoing while in office. Sheik Salman will complete the remainder of Bin Hammam's term, which finishes in 2015.

Referring to the controversy surrounding Bin Hammam, Sheikh Salman stated "today, the Asian football family is at a crossroads. Today we have the power to erase a chapter of our history."

However, Sheikh Salman has not been immune to corruption allegations himself, having been under fire before this week's vote for accusations that the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) was lobbying on his behalf. He faced similar allegations when unsuccessfully challenging Bin Hammam in 2009.

In his acceptance speech Sheikh Salman promised to steer the AFC away from controversy, stating "my mission is to reunite our confederation (and) to lead our family towards a future of growth and prosperity, a future based on good governance and integrity."

He also promised to be a "strong leader" who would implement "principles of good governance at every level", and concluded "what we need are concrete reforms, steps that can be implemented and measured. What we need is an AFC where the decision-makers are accountable."

Before voting began, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said Asian football still had to work to heal its divisions and rebuild its reputation, stating "I would identify this restart as an intermediary restart.

"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."

Prior to the election, Asian football commentator James M. Dorsey, author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, wrote that the AFC Presidential elections were "designed to elect a leader to clean up two years of alleged financial mismanagement and unethical business conduct and polish the group's tarnished image are increasingly marred by doubts that real reform is on the horizon, allegations of interference in the poll and controversy over the candidates' track record."

Football Federation Australia (FFA) Chairman Frank Lowy AO welcomed Sheikh Salman's election stating "(the) FFA warmly welcomes the election of Sheikh Salman and we look forward to a close working relationship with the new President.

"We recognise that positive changes are underway (within the AFC) and we will continue to contribute to strengthening the governance of the game across the AFC."

Lowy also hailed the re-election of FFA Director Moya Dodd as Vice President of the AFC, adding "the fact that Moya was re-elected unopposed shows she enjoys widespread support within the AFC.

"Moya will give Australia a voice at the AFC's top table and contribute to football development over Asia."





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