AFC head believes next FIFA leader will be Asian

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) head Sheikh Salman Ebrahim Al Khalifa, in running to replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA president, says he is 'confident' next FIFA leader will be from Asia

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa

Asia's football leader has won unanimous backing from his executive committee as the man to "rebuild FIFA" as he strengthens his campaign to take over the corruption-tarnished world body.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) executive committee also pledged to lobby its members to support president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, in a meeting ahead of Sunday's AFC awards.

The Bahraini royal will appear before hundreds of delegates at the awards show in New Delhi after emerging as a leading candidate for the February 26 FIFA presidential vote.

"The [exco] meeting expressed their utmost confidence in Sheikh Salman's ability to restore FIFA's credibility," said an AFC statement from the Indian capital.

"They added that Sheikh Salman has demonstrated his leadership qualities since taking over as AFC president and it was crucial to elect Sheikh Salman as he was 'someone who could rebuild FIFA and make FIFA better in the future'."

Sheikh Salman's odds have narrowed after UEFA President Michel Platini was suspended over a suspect $2 million payment. Platini's lawyer says FIFA's ethics committee is seeking a life ban.

As head of one of FIFA's biggest confederations, and with the backing of powerful Kuwaiti FIFA exco member Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah, Sheikh Salman is among the strongest of the five current candidates.

In a sign of his rising fortunes, the AFC boss said he was "confident" the next FIFA head would come from Asia, a development which would break new ground for world football.

"It is a big support for my campaign, as well as an honour for me, to have the endorsement and full backing of the AFC Executive Committee," Sheikh Salman said in the statement.

"Since you are the elected representatives of the AFC member associations, it also sends a strong message that Asia is behind one candidate.

"I thank you for your support and invaluable advice. I am confident that the next president of FIFA will be from Asia.

"This would not only be a recognition of the ever-increasing role that Asia and Asian football has, but also will allow us to have a say in shaping a better future for this great game."

The former ally of suspended FIFA chief Sepp Blatter faces challenges from UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino and Asian rival Prince Ali Al Hussein of Jordan, who have both pledged a path of reform.

FIFA has become mired in a mess of corruption claims, many of them surrounding alleged bribes during bidding to host World Cups including Qatar 2022, with several officials in the firing line.

Blatter, 79, is the target of a criminal investigation by Swiss prosecutors over possible mismanagement at Zurich-based FIFA and the $2 million payment made in 2011 to Platini.

Also in the running for the FIFA leadership are former FIFA official Jerome Champagne of France, and South African businessman and former minister Tokyo Sexwale.

As well as promising to lobby Asian delegates, the AFC exco also passed a resolution urging its members to "unite behind and support the AFC president Sheikh Salman" in his FIFA campaign.

"The executive committee also pledged to work through the member associations to ensure the necessary support for Sheikh Salman's candidacy," the statement added.