By Patrick Johnston
FIFA presidential candidate Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has dismissed accusations of human rights abuses during his time as Bahrain Football Association head as nasty lies, in comments to the BBC on Tuesday.
Salman, head of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), submitted his papers on Monday to stand in FIFA’s February 26 election to decide upon a new leader of the world governing body, engulfed in a corruption crisis.
But Salman’s declaration came amid an outcry from human rights groups who say that he, as head of the Bahrain Football Association and member of Bahrain’s royal family, had local football players arrested, detained, abused, tortured and publicly humiliated during democracy protests in February 2011.
Bahrain was swept by protests during the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in which the Shi’ite majority demanded political reforms from the Sunni Muslim ruling family.
Salman faced the same accusations prior to his election as AFC president in 2013. He reiterated his previous position on Tuesday that he was innocent.
“These are false, nasty lies that have been repeated again and again in the past and the present,” he told BBC Sport, accusing some people of having an “agenda” in making the allegations.
“I cannot deny something that I haven’t done,” he said. “It’s not just damaging me, it’s damaging the people and the country.”
The Bahraini, who is closely allied with Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, one of the most powerful men in international sports politics and a key figure in the Olympic movement, is one of eight candidates to head FIFA.
The 49-year-old Manchester United supporter initially backed Sepp Blatter before throwing his support behind UEFA President Michel Platini to succeed him as FIFA president. Both were suspended for 90 days this month pending a full investigation by FIFA’s Ethics Committee. Both deny any wrongdoing.
Salman, expected to be able to call upon the bulk of support among the 47 members in the Asian confederation, said he was the man to fix FIFA, which has been reeling since May when the United States indicted several FIFA officials for bribery, money laundering and wire fraud.
Swiss authorities are also investigating the decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
“With the support I’m going to get, we’re going to turn it around very quick,” Salman said.