Football: Rigging fears over key Asian football vote

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP): More than half of Asia's 46 national soccer associations fear a key administrative election may be manipulated, and have urged FIFA to monitor the vote, the challenger said Sunday.

Bahrain's Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa, who is challenging incumbent Mohammed bin Hammam for a position on FIFA's executive committee, said 24 countries sent a joint letter to the FIFA president Sepp Blatter on Friday, expressing "fear and concern" over the May 8 election.

The letter is the latest development in a bitter contest between Salman, a member of Bahrain's royalty, and Asian Football Confederation president Hammam of Qatar.

The two men are former friends who are now locked in an open fight, accusing each other of buying votes. The stakes in the election are high, as Bin Hammam said he will quit his seven-year tenure as head of the AFC if he is beaten.

Bin Hammam was not immediately available for comment and calls to the AFC went unanswered.

Salman said he and his counterparts in 23 other national associations fear that closed circuit cameras could be placed strategically or over the voting booths on Friday. He said this could intimidate voters into supporting Hammam.

"There is some concern that upcoming election ... won't be a fair play," Salman told reporters. "Cameras might be in a way used to even take pictures of the votes cast. We want (delegates) to vote freely," he said.

Salman did not say what makes him believe the cameras would be used to monitor voting. He would only say that he has reason to believe that it would be.

The joint letter to Blatter urged FIFA to "supervise the election procedure ... to ensure fairness and transparency."

The government body must also "provide a directive not to allow any camera or mobile camera phones at the site of the voting," said the letter, a copy of which was seen by The Associated Press.

It was signed by Bahrain, Kuwait and 22 other countries.

"This is totally undemocratic. It's tantamount to robbing the privacy of members, and their right to vote for whom they want," Kuwait FA's vice president Faisal Al-Dakheel said in a statement.

Salman's camp has accused Bin Hammam of handing out money and favors to national associations of poor countries to win the vote, a charge he denies.

He has in turn accused the Olympic Council of Asia of offering financial inducements in the form of grants to those nations who cast their vote for Salman. The OCA is based in Kuwait, an ally of Salman.

The OCA has threatened legal action against Bin Hammam, while Salman has rejected the claims.

Despite the messy situation, Salman said he is optimistic of winning the election.

"We should just focus on how we develop this game. Unfortunately there is always bad and good things in elections. It is better to focus on positive things," he said.

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