Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa on Wednesday called for “fair play” in next year’s elections where he will seek a fresh, four-year term as president.
The Bahraini royal said he had the support of nearly 90 per cent of the AFC’s 46 full members, but warned against “third-party interference” in the vote next April.
Sheikh Salman first took the reins in 2013 when the Asian body was still reeling from a corruption scandal which saw his predecessor, Mohamed bin Hammam, banned from football for life.
“In Asia and particularly here at the AFC, we have built a positive reputation and image in the last five years,” he told the AFC annual congress in Kuala Lumpur. “We do not need nor do we want any third-party interference or influence in our elections. We need to be strong on this matter.”
The congress passed an amendment to an electoral rule which said candidates must be backed by their home country and two other federations. Any three nominations are now acceptable.
It also approved a proposal to formally recognise five regional associations within the AFC.
At the AFC Congress in April, Sheikh Salman could face a challenge from Saudi Arabia’s Adel Ezzat, head of a new regional bloc, the South West Asian Football Federation.
However, the sheikh said he had letters of support from 40 of the federations in the AFC, which has influence as the world’s second biggest confederation behind Africa.
“All member associations must be free to exercise their rights for the good of the game. And this, we must remember, is the Asian football family. Our family must stick together,” he said.
His potential challenger, Ezzat, resigned as head of the Saudi football federation last month, saying he wanted to focus on the AFC elections.
While Saudi Arabia has long been a marginal player in the game, the oil-rich kingdom – currently involved in a diplomatic row with 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar – is seen as being in the midst of a push for influence in football.
Asian football has a chequered history after Qatar’s bin Hammam was accused of bribery during his 2011 campaign to unseat the now disgraced Sepp Blatter as president of world body Fifa.
After having a life ban annulled by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, bin Hammam was handed a second lifetime ban by Fifa in 2012 for conflict of interest violations.
Sheikh Salman was elected in 2013 and completed the last two years of bin Hammam’s term, before being re-elected unopposed to a full, four-year term in 2015.