No pay, less power: Bahrain sheikh’s FIFA pres­i­dency pitch

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

MAN­AMA: A Bahraini sheikh is go­ing for sim­plic­ity and fan-ap­peal with head­line pledges to trans­form a dis­cred­ited FIFA: Re­lin­quish much of the power Sepp Blat­ter built up over 17 years at FIFA and take no salary. Sheikh Sal­man bin Ibrahim Al-Khal­ifa was a late, seem­ingly re­luc­tant can­di­date to lead FIFA’s re­cov­ery from a cor­rup­tion cri­sis that is likely to see fresh rev­e­la­tions of wrong­do­ing emerg­ing long af­ter elec­tion day in Fe­bru­ary. “I don’t want too much power with the pres­i­dent - the power has to be shared,” Sheikh Sal­man said in an in­ter­view with AP. “I be­lieve in do­ing things in a dif­fer­ent way, not be­ing cen­tral­ized where the pres­i­dent has to do ev­ery de­tail in run­ning the busi­ness.”

That means tak­ing no money for be­ing the face of FIFA. “I don’t want to be an ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­dent,” the sheikh said. “And if I’m not an ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­dent I don’t see how I do de­serve to be paid.” Rather than a bit­ter elec­tion fight un­til Feb 26, the sheikh hopes there is a smooth suc­ces­sion, with the five can­di­dates cur­rently vy­ing to run foot­ball whit­tled down be­fore elec­tion day. “I’d like to see most of the con­ti­nents agree­ing on a sin­gle can­di­date but we have to work for this in the next few weeks,” the sheikh said dur­ing an hour­long in­ter­view in the Bahraini cap­i­tal Man­ama.

Had it not been for Michel Pla­tini in­ju­di­ciously claim­ing 2 mil­lion Swiss francs ($2 mil­lion) from FIFA four years ago, this Manch­ester United-sup­port­ing mem­ber of Bahrain’s royal fam­ily would not now be a front-run­ner to be­come the first Arab leader of FIFA. Hav­ing been among Pla­tini’s early cam­paign cham­pi­ons, Sheikh Sal­man en­tered the race once it be­came clear the UEFA pres­i­dent’s sus­pen­sion over that 2011 pay­ment made the elec­tion out­come far more un­cer­tain. The Asian Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent would not have wanted Prince Ali bin Al-Hus­sein of Jor­dan to have a clear path to the pres­i­dency.

Pla­tini is out of con­tention while await­ing the full ver­dict from FIFA’s ethics judge which could re­sult in a long ban for the for­mer France cap­tain. “I think dam­age has been done,” Sheikh Sal­man said. “But he has the right as well to de­fend him­self. We can­not judge.” The sheikh has al­ready faced the judg­ment of many. With lit­tle name recog­ni­tion pro­file among foot­ball fans out­side the Asian re­gion he has led for barely two years, his in­ter­na­tional spot­light usu­ally comes when chal­lenged on hu­man rights abuse al­le­ga­tions he de­nounced as lies. De­spite com­plaints against his can­di­dacy from rights groups, the sheikh was last week ap­proved as a can­di­date by FIFA’s elec­tion watch­dog along­side four other men: Prince Ali, UEFA Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Gianni In­fantino, for­mer FIFA of­fi­cial Jerome Cham­pagne and apartheid-era for­mer Robben Is­land prisoner Tokyo Sexwale.


How many names are on the ballot pa­per in Zurich in Fe­bru­ary could de­pend on whether Pla­tini de­fies expectations and is cleared be­fore elec­tion day. “If he comes back and he still wants to run, I think we would have to sit to­gether ... and as­sess the sit­u­a­tion,” Sheikh Sal­man said. “I am sure there will be an agree­ment. At the end of the day we all need to sup­port each other ... (and) come with a com­pro­mise to hope­fully have a good so­lu­tion for ev­ery­body.”

Whether that agree­ment could in­clude the 49-year-old sheikh quit­ting the cam­paign is un­clear. “Any­thing is a pos­si­bil­ity if it’s for the good of the cause,” he said. “But I didn’t go in and com­mit my­self to give a full pre­sump­tion I might with­draw. I’m in to go for the elec­tion.” The sheikh had ex­pected to gain Europe’s sup­port un­til UEFA sur­pris­ingly en­dorsed In­fantino on can­di­date dead­line-day last month. In­fantino, who will stand aside for Pla­tini if his boss his cleared be­fore elec­tion day, has been touted for a po­ten­tial role run­ning the FIFA ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der a Sheikh Sal­man pres­i­dency. “I’d like to feel like we are work­ing to­gether, not against each other - work­ing for one cause to make that change,” the sheikh said. “We have to sit and talk and come to a so­lu­tion of what’s best.”

A Sal­man pres­i­dency would look very dif­fer­ent from Blat­ter’s reign, po­ten­tially blander in terms of pub­lic state­ments. Ex­pect fewer rash pro­nounce­ments on changes to the game and awk­ward asides in speeches. The sheikh is yet to pro­duce his man­i­festo, but said he would con­sult the con­fed­er­a­tions be­fore em­u­lat­ing In­fantino and pledg­ing to ex­pand the World Cup by eight teams to 40. Discussing whether the use of tech­nol­ogy should be ex­panded be­yond rul­ing on dis­puted goals, the sheikh said: “The sim­ple it is the bet­ter it is.” —AP

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