GENEVA (AP) Sheikh Salman has had a target on his back all through the FIFA presidential election campaign.
The Bahraini royal began the five-candidate contest knowing his home country’s human rights record and treatment of national team players after Arab Spring protests in 2011 would be an issue.
Still, it didn’t stop Sheikh Salman from winning two presidential elections at the Asian soccer confederation. Also, no decisive new evidence has emerged during FIFA campaigning about his role during a crackdown on pro-democracy protests by the government led by his family.
Sheikh Salman has been the presumed favorite for Friday’s election because of endorsements from the executive committees of the Asian and African soccer confederations, which represent up to 100 of the 209 FIFA member federations.
Here are some things to know about his election promises and track record:
From the start of his campaign, Sheikh Salman denounced any claim that he – as Bahrain soccer federation president – helped identify players to be detained if they attended protests, calling the accusations “nasty lies.” Some players said they were tortured by government forces.
The FIFA election committee approved the sheikh as a candidate. Two years ago, the FIFA ethics committee also rejected requests by activists to open a case.
Sheikh Salman told The Associated Press he is accountable only for decisions by soccer bodies: “Whatever is related to the political side and government side is not a concern of mine.”
Election rival Prince Ali of Jordan aimed this barb: “How are you then going to earn the respect of the entire world and players across the world, as well as FAs (football associations), if you couldn’t even take care of your own?”
Despite his ban, Sepp Blatter looms over an election decided by voters who repeatedly gave him power when FIFA was in reputational crisis. In 2002, 2011 and 2015.
Sheikh Salman strongly supported Blatter last May against Asia’s then-FIFA vice president, Prince Ali.
Some voters see Gianni Infantino, the sheikh’s biggest rival, as representing a wealthy and arrogant UEFA which fought with FIFA and Blatter for years.
The sheikh defends FIFA. His manifesto says FIFA “does not need a revolution, it just needs to be re-thought, re-positioned and re-energized.”
Sheikh Salman’s manifesto hedges on expanding the 32-team World Cup – “(it) cannot be used as an election tool” – and spending more of FIFA’s $1.4 billion reserves and $5 billion-plus income from each tournament.
Instead of across-the-board increases to all 209 members, he prefers “needs-based” development funds.
Sheikh Salman has been risk averse at the Asian soccer confederation. The soccer body’s auditors advised reviewing a $1 billion, eight-year marketing deal with World Sport Group brokered by disgraced former president Mohamed bin Hammam.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers report said AFC’s competition assets were undervalued by tens of millions of dollars. The deal remains in place.
“Even if the risks (to the AFC) are 20 percent or 50 percent I’m not ready to take it,” the sheikh told the AP.
As FIFA president, Sheikh Salman would be hands-off, delegating to staffers in Zurich and taking no salary.
Sheikh Salman says he can restore FIFA after a corruption crisis because he already did that in Asia.
His challenges on being elected in 2013, after FIFA twice banned Bin Hammam for life, included ending factional disputes and clearing out corrupt officials.
“If you have a very fair leader … who can bring people together in mutual consensus, it can be done,” Sheikh Salman said.
Still, the AFC never appointed a planned ethics committee despite publishing on its website a Code of Ethics dated July 2013.
“The ethics code in Asia hasn’t been approved but it has been approved as a concept to create it,” the sheikh told the AP this month.
Instead, evidence was handed over to the FIFA ethics committee, which banned an AFC executive committee member from Laos in November for taking an irregular payment.
Officials implicated in wrongdoing, including by PricewaterhouseCoopers, also won AFC executive committee seats in elections last April.
“You cannot decide and reject someone if you don’t have any proof or a decision against them,” Sheikh Salman told the AP.