India’s vote in this month’s Fifa presidential elections is likely to go to Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, a source in the All India Football Federation (AIFF) told HT.
“Our stand has always been very clear. We would vote the way the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) votes and the Asian confederation is going to seek Sheikh Salman as Fifa president,” the source said.
Another Indian football administrator not connected with the AIFF also said the federation president Praful Patel has “good relations” with the 50-year-old Sheikh Salman, who has been the AFC president since 2013 when Mohamed bin Hammam was banned from football on charges of financial malfeasance. At its congress in Bahrain last year, Patel, 58, became an AFC vice-president. The AFC’s annual awards night was held in New Delhi last November.
Should the AIFF vote for Sheikh Salman, it would be consistent with its stand of going with the continent’s choice. Shiekh Salman had backed Sepp Blatter at last May’s presidential elections and India reportedly had toed the line. Blatter, 79, successfully sought re-election for a fifth term, winning 133 of the 209 member association’s votes though he couldn’t secure the two-thirds majority necessary in the first round of polling through secret ballot. Former Fifa vice-president Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, who is from Jordan, got 73 votes but didn’t force a second round.
Blatter had been instrumental in India getting the 2017 under-17 World Cup and even allowing two leagues --- the I-League and the Indian Super Leagues --- to function. Over the past decade, India got approximately $15m as Fifa grant including funds to build the Football House in Dwarka near New Delhi.
The presidential elections will be in Zurich on February 26. Apart from Sheikh Salman, the candidates for the top post in football’s apex body are: Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino, former Fifa official Jerome Champagne, South African businessman and former inmate at the Robben Island prison near Cape Town Tokyo Sexwale and Prince Ali.
Till former France skipper and Uefa president Michel Platini’s issue of what Swiss prosecutors termed disloyal payment of $2 million came up, he was the AFC’s preferred candidate after Blatter announced he would step down. This, despite there being two Asian candidates then: Chung Mong-joon, the South Korean billionaire and scion of the Hyundai conglomerate, and Prince Ali.
A statement from the AFC dated September 3, 2015 said: “…because one of AFC’s roles, like any Confederation, is to act as a collective voice for its associations within FIFA, many AFC Member Associations have, unsurprisingly, contacted the AFC to ask how they can express their support for a specific candidate.
“The AFC President is, according to the AFC Statutes, responsible for relations with FIFA and other Confederations, and has already expressed his personal preference for the candidacy of Michel Platini, as quoted in the statement of 30 July….
“A growing majority of AFC Member Associations have also expressed their support for Mr Platini’s candidacy, based on his credentials to lead world football, whilst others have expressed an interest for other candidates, have expressed no interest at all, or are waiting before making up their minds.”
But Platini got suspended for 90 days, along with Blatter, and it was then, in last October, that Sheikh Salman decided to contest. In December 2015, Platini and Blatter were banned for eight years.
“Shaikh (sic) Salman has assured the AFC executive committee, who offered him overwhelming support, and the 47 AFC Member Associations that his campaign will be entirely self-financed and that he will not use the AFC’s resources, human or otherwise, in the election,” according to an AFC statement last October. Sheikh Salman has also reportedly said he wouldn’t draw any salary as Fifa president. (Unlike Pep Guardiola moving to Manchester City, the emolument of the Fifa president is a closely-kept secret.)
Organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird) though have criticised Sheikh Salman’s candidature. Sheikh Salman has denied the charge of human rights violations following an Associated Press report in 2011 that said athletes, coaches and referees had been jailed after being identified through photographs taken during the pro-democracy protests in Bahrain. Last month, Bird also wrote to Fifa’s sponsors about this.
The Guardian put out a statement issued by Sheikh Salman on November 12, 2015, that said: “While it was proposed that Sheikh Salman lead a fact-finding committee in relation to the events of 2011, that committee was never formally established and never conducted any business whatsoever. For the record, and in light of the recycling of historic allegations in the media, Sheikh Salman had absolutely no involvement in the identification, investigation, prosecution or mistreatment of any individuals as has been alleged.”
Like all presidential aspirants, Sheikh Salman too cleared the mandatory integrity test. In November 2015, the Fifa ad hoc electoral committee found no basis in the charges against Sheikh Salman. An official for Bird though was quoted in the Guardian as saying in the report dated November 12 that the decision was a black mark on world football. In the same article, the paper’s website quoted a spokeswoman for human rights organisation Amnesty International as saying: “After a succession of crises, the last thing world football needs is another scandal involving human rights and we urge Fifa to be extremely diligent in checking the background of all the presidential candidates.”
A Reuters report last Thursday said Sexwale, Sheikh Salman and Infantino would be in Doha for the Asian under-23 final between South Korea and Japan. Jockeying for votes is not uncommon among candidates but Sexwale telling a South African FM station that he would be in Doha as Sheikh Salman’s guest has increased speculations about him backing the Asian candidate.
The time for alliances will come,” said Sexwale. “We are now talking, this one is talking to me, that one is talking to me. But who is talking? We are brothers, we are colleagues, we are comrades in arms,” said Sexwale, who was a friend of Nelson Mandela.
Sheikh Salman’s call for financial prudence seems to be at odds with Infantino who is said to be promising largesse greater than Blatter. That along with Infantino being the only candidate backed by a confederation – Uefa --- rules out, at least for the moment, any alliance between the Swiss-Italian and Sheikh Salman.