Sheik Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa has been elected the next president of Asia's footballing body AFC. The controversial Bahraini takes over a confederation marred in scandal after the resignation of Mohamed bin Hammam.
Sheik Salman's election was met with cheers by his Asian Football Confederation (AFC) compatriots Thursday at an upscale Malaysian hotel in Kuala Lumpur. His 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 UAE 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 Sheik Salman went on to capture the confederation's vacant seat on FIFA's powerful executive committee with 28 votes, 10 ahead of Qatar World Cup organizing chief Hassan Al Thawadi.
Surrounded in controversy
The Bahrain Football Association chief was elected despite concerns that he had committed human rights violations. He is accused by rights groups of orchestrating a purge of players and officials, who said they were arrested, detained, abused, tortured and publicly humiliated under his watch.
Shiek 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 organization 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.
"Today, the Asian football family is at a crossroads. Today we have the power to erase a chapter of our history," he said, referring to the controversy surrounding Bin Hammam.
But Sheik Salman has not been immune to corruption allegations himself, having been under fire before Thursday'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.
'Clean up the past'
In his acceptance speech Sheik Salman promised to steer the AFC away from controversy.
"My mission is to reunite our confederation," he said. "My mission is 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."
"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," he said, promising to "clean up the past."
In attendance for the vote, Blatter hailed the event's "total transparency."
"I wish [Sheik Salman] a lot of success, a lot of patience but also it's certain that Asian football is going to travel a difficult road now to renew this great confederation," he said.
dr/ipj (AFP, AP, Reuters)