COULD Sheikh Salman Ebrahim Al-Khalifa be the man to put FIFA in order? All signs seem to be pointing in that direction.
Sheikh Salman, who is president of Asian Football Confederation (AFC), has drawn tremendous support from Europe, Asia, South America and Africa and there are strong signals of the Bahraini royal being elected the next FIFA leader if he is elected on Feb 26 to succeed the suspended and controversial Sepp Blatter.
He received unanimous backing from the AFC executive committee as the individual to “restore FIFA” as he strengthens his campaign to take over the world governing body which is sparked by a series of corruption claims.
“Sheikh Salman has demonstrated his leadership qualities since taking over as AFC president and it is crucial to elect Sheikh Salman as he is ‘someone who can rebuild FIFA and make FIFA better in the future’,” the AFC said in a statement recently.
Since 2013, Sheikh Salman has managed to steadily steer the AFC ship in policy matters and ensuring that transparency and corporate governance was in place. Former AFC president Mohammed Hammam’s leadership has dented the Asian body’s image and character in his haste to be FIFA president.
The introduction of the charismatic Sheikh Salman has not only seen changes to AFC’s structure and integrity on the world platform but took AFC to a higher pedestal.
Sheikh Salman is a member of the Bahrain royal family. He graduated from University of Bahrain in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and History. He was also actively involved in football dating back to the 1980s and was a member of the Bahrain Division One team, Riffa.
At the recent glittering Bollywood-themed AFC Awards Night in Gurgaon near New Delhi, Sheikh Salman told the more than 100-strong audience: “For a long time, people talked of the future being Asia – I am now convinced that the present is Asia.”
Asia’s contribution to the world football is so great that Asia pays the highest bidding fee for World Cup and English Premier League rights. The recent AFC Asian Cup success in Australia goes to show how commercially football has become a huge business from marketing to television broadcast.
AFC is the first confederation to organise a Women’s Futsal Championship. The Asian Champions League is another case as more than 260 million people watched on television across the continent and a remarkable 2.25 million fans attended the games with record average attendances.
It seems that AFC will break many records through Sheikh Salman’s leadership and to ensure the administration of AFC is at the pinnacle, he appointed Datuk Windsor John Paul as the general-secretary.
Windsor has been the deputy general-secretary of AFC prior to his promotion and has served FAM and FIFA in various positions. The appointment of Windsor clearly indicates that Sheikh Salman only wants the best in the industry to spearhead the confederation in the da-to-day matters and ensuring AFC polices are governed with highest professionalism and integrity, which Windsor brings to the table.
While most leaders would utilise resources of their offices and organisation to run for election, Sheikh Salman has informed the AFC family that he opposes such practice. That is a hallmark of a good leadership quality, the ability to be independent before and during election.
Sheikh Salman waltzed into AFC to clean up the past and turn the page for the future. If he is elected FIFA president, he will need to restore transparency and integrity in the world governing body which is now trapped in mounting bribery claims.
But he is not alone as he faces Italian Gianni Infantino, the general-secretary of the European body (UEFA) and Jordan’s Prince Ali Al Hussein. Two other candidates – former FIFA officials Jerome Champagne of France and South African businessman and former minister Tokyo Sexwale are also hoping to take over from the 79-year-old Blatter. All have pledged a path of reform.
Sheikh Salman could be the first Asian to be appointed FIFA president if all goes well on Feb 26 next year.
Christopher Raj is chief executive officer of ShekhinahPR, a sports public relations agency. He has spent almost 20 years working in various sports portfolios, including the Football Association of Malaysia and the Asian Football Confederation as well as a number of years as a journalist. Chris’ twitter account is @chrisraj23.