Shaikh Salman Fifa bid backed 

By PATRICK SALOMON in Kuwait City

TOP Asian soccer nations were yesterday united in voicing their support for Bahrain's Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa in his bid for the West Asia seat on the Fifa Executive Committee.

Shaikh Salman is running against Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohammed bin Hammam for the prestigious post.

Up to 20 nations from across the continent are known to be behind the Bahrain Football Association (BFA) chief. Shaikh Salman's biggest supporters include Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and most recently Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Saudi and Kuwait officially announced their support of Shaikh Salman yesterday alongside East Asian Football Federation general secretary Takeo Okada from Japan, who spoke on behalf of Shaikh Salman's supporters during a Press conference at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in Kuwait City.

Saudi was represented by Saudi Arabia Football Federation vice-president Prince Nawaf bin Faisal while Kuwait was represented by Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) president and Kuwait Football Association head Shaikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah. Shaikh Ahmad added that the OCA is also in full support of Bahrain's candidature.

Okada revealed that there are presently nine countries from East Asia who have confirmed to be behind the 43-year-old Bahraini, along with another four each from west and southeast Asia and three from central Asia.

Many others are also known to support Shaikh Salman, boosting his chance of winning the Fifa seat, which will be decided in an election that will take place during the AFC Congress on May 8 in Kuala Lumpur.

"My confidence is very high," Shaikh Salman told the media. "As I've said from the beginning, I wouldn't have taken this step without studying it very well."

Shaikh Salman's supporters look to him as the person who can end growing concerns about bin Hammam's alleged mismanagement of the AFC, and it is believed that a win for him will severely undermine the incumbent Asian president.

Shaikh Salman's election campaign is appropriately named 'Asia for Change', as he envisions 'a united AFC' serving continental football and assisting in its development.

Okada raised several key points yesterday as he spoke of his support for Shaikh Salman. They included objections to changes bin Hammam has proposed - namely the relocation of the AFC headquarters to outside Malaysia, the signing of a 12-year contract that would end in 2020 with possible marketing partners World Sport Group, and amendments to AFC statutes that would eventually disqualify Shaikh Salman's executive committee candidacy.

"We must change the current situation of the AFC and the mismanagement of the AFC president, in order to have better prosperity for the future," Okada said.

Shaikh Salman added: "I know this split in Asia has of course had an impact on my nomination, and I think that's why you see so much support and so many positive signs everywhere in Asia.

"The time is right to change the direction of the AFC. I believe that too many power and political games are affecting the harmony of Asian football, when the only game that should matter is the one taking place on the pitches.

"As leaders in our sport, we must never lose sight of the fact that we are first and foremost servants of the game, at all levels, and in all corners of the Asian continent."

Shaikh Salman's candidacy for the Fifa Executive Committee is the first challenge against bin Hammam for the West Asia seat.

The Qatari has held it, unopposed, since 1996. Bin Hammam has been accused of running the AFC in an authoritarian and dictatorial style. Should he lose the upcoming election, he has threatened to quit as AFC president.

Shaikh Salman reiterated yesterday that he is not interested in taking over the AFC presidency. "I have no intention of running for it," he said. "Whether the existing president stays or he doesn't, it doesn't matter to me. My sole intention and concentration is winning on May 8."

Among the other Asian countries known to support Shaikh Salman are China, Hong Kong, Syria, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Vietnam.


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