Salman: War of words good for Asia

KUALA LUMPUR - The Bahraini Sheikh hoping to topple Asian football chief Mohamed Bin Hammam believes the bitter power struggle he is embroiled in is healthy for the Asian game.

Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, the first man to challenge Qatar's Bin Hammam since he won his FIFA executive committee seat in 1996, said the mudslinging used in their election campaigns were solid signs of progress.

"What's happening is people are fighting for democracy, justice, equality and transparency, and Asian football has seriously lacked this," Sheikh Salman told Reuters.

"If we are fighting for our values, I don't see anything wrong with this."

Friday's vote for the West Asia seat on the panel of FIFA's top decision makers has taken on added significance since Bin Hammam vowed to quit his seven-year reign as Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president if defeated.

The two campaigns have been riddled with allegations of power abuse, intimidation and vote-buying, with Bin Hammam's opponents in East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Gulf weighing-in with scathing criticism of his rule.

Bin Hammam believes Sheikh Salman's challenge is part of a vendetta and has pulled no punches in chiding the rivals he claims had plotted to use the Bahraini to oust him.

Sheikh Salman, a member of Bahrain's royal family, said he and his backers had not attacked Bin Hammam, but were simply judging his performance.

'NOTHING PERSONAL'

"This is part of democracy, it's nothing personal," the 43-year-old said.

"We need democracy. I don't think under him there has ever been an election, just committees that are appointed, there is no free speech. We need democracy in Asia to be true.

"He has attacked those who are supporting me but this has nothing to do with football."

Among Sheikh Salman's election pledges are to increase funding, attract greater commercial investment and develop grassroots football in every country, with particular focus on India and China, the world's two most populous countries.

Another of his goals is to bring either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup finals to Asia and convince federations to eventually rally behind one bid in the region.

Australia, Qatar, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea are the Asian countries which have submitted initial bids to host the finals.

"There will be one country that has the best bid," he said. "We have to unify our support behind one country which has the best chance and I believe with the friendship we have, we can bring the World Cup here."

Sheikh Salman is confident he will win in Friday's vote during the AFC Congress in Kuala Lumpur and, if elected, promises to raise the standard of the Asian game by sending quality players to big foreign leagues and luring top Europeans to Asia.

"Asia lacks equality, finance and technical support but I see light at the end of the tunnel.

"We will bring freedom of expression and justice, and we will develop very good players.

"We already have players in big European leagues and we will have more, as well as bring top Europeans here."

"We can bring Asia through this. We will bring big changes. It's clear and simple."

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