Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa

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Campaign promises and track record of FIFA candidate Salman

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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.

[ MORE: Copa America draw — There is no group of death ]

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:

HUMAN RIGHTS

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?”

CONTINUITY

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.”

CAUTIOUS LEADER

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.

[ MORE: The very latest on the Tim Howard-to-MLS rumors ]

CLEAN-UP OPERATION

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.

FIFA presidential election: Infantino expects ‘majority’ of African votes

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) Gianni Infantino expects more than half of Africa’s 54 countries to back him in the FIFA presidential election on Friday.

[ FOLLOW: The latest FIFA election news ]

“I will make an impact (in Africa). I will have a majority of the African votes,” the UEFA secretary general said in Cape Town on Monday on a short-notice visit to see where Nelson Mandela was jailed during apartheid.

Infantino’s claim, if true, means most African countries will defy their continent’s soccer leadership. The Confederation of African Football executive committee has formally endorsed Infantino’s main opponent, Sheikh Salman of Bahrain.

Infantino said his belief came from private visits to Africa, FIFA’s largest confederation by number of voting countries, and a crucial battleground for votes.

[ MORE: Blatter says he won’t endorse any of the candidates ]

“In the discussions I’ve had with many African (soccer) presidents, I can say I feel very confident,” he said.

Infantino visited Robben Island, the prison where Mandela was jailed during apartheid, on the invitation of fellow FIFA candidate Tokyo Sexwale. South African businessman Sexwale, also a former political prisoner on the island, said he invited all four other candidates, but Sheikh Salman of Bahrain, Prince Ali of Jordan, and Frenchman Jerome Champagne couldn’t find time in their schedules just four days before the election in Zurich.

Infantino and Sheikh Salman have emerged as favorites to succeed Sepp Blatter in the vote forced by the corruption scandal at FIFA. Salman has the backing of Asia, while Infantino has the support of Europe.

Appearing together at a news conference, Infantino and Sexwale called the South African visit symbolic, but the importance of Africa’s votes to Infantino’s chances was perhaps underlined by his decision to make the last-minute trip. Having received the invitation just a few days ago, the Swiss arrived in South Africa from Geneva on Monday morning, and was making the 13-hour flight back to Switzerland on Monday night.

[ MORE: Qatari official says World Cup drunks will be treated “very gently” ]

Sexwale has struggled to gain support in his campaign and, when his home African continent snubbed him in favor of Salman, he denied he will withdraw before the election.

For Infantino, appearing alongside Sexwale was bound to lead to speculation he was seeking an endorsement from one of his opponents.

But Infantino said there were no deals on the table yet.

“I have nothing to hide,” he said.

Sexwale, however, said he was “a realist,” and the time would come to talk to his opponents should, as expected, he fail to gain significant support in the election.

“Towards the finishing line there will be alliances,” Sexwale said. “I am open to alliances, I am open to negotiations.”

African confederation backs Shiekh Salman, not Sexwale, for FIFA presidency

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The African confederation (CAF) announced today in a statement following a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda that they would be unanimously backing Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa for the FIFA presidency.

The AFC has unrivaled power in the vote for the FIFA presidency, and with 54 votes, decided to push all their support into one bloc. The choice to back Salman comes at somewhat of a surprise, given that Tokyo Sexwale was a favorite in the region as he is a South African native, and the CAF has long campaigned for one of its own to be put into office.

Sheikh Salman is the current head of the Asian confederation (AFC), serving in that position since he was voted into office in May of 2013. The AFC signed a cooperative agreement with the CAF just last month

“I am humbled by the support of CAF’s Executive Committee and tremendously encouraged by the unanimous decision to support my bid for the office of FIFA president,” Sheikh Salman said in a statement following the announcement. “I am deeply honored to have earned the trust of many of our African friends at this crucial stage of the campaigning effort.  The two endorsements only mean that there is a strong groundswell in favor of my candidacy. What they don’t mean, is that I can sit back and relax. This campaign will be decided on the day of the vote, not before. Naturally, I am confident that I now have a reasonably strong position to work from with such support.”

In a twist, just hours after the announcement by the CAF, fellow presidential candidate Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein revealed on Twitter that he had the backing of the Egyptian Football Federation, which is a member of the CAF. The original tweet came from an account created to support his presidential bid, but it was retweeted by Prince Ali’s personal verified account.

No word has been announced on whether the CAF had accepted Egypt’s apparent rogue nature. The initial statement by the CAF announcing support for Sheikh Salman read, “While respecting the principle of democracy, the sovereignty, and latitude of each member association to vote for the candidate of its choice, the Executive Committee urges all the 54 member associations of the Confédération Africaine de Football to reserve their votes for Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa during the 26 February 2016 elections for the presidency of FIFA in Zurich.”

The CAF is headquartered just outside Cairo, Egypt.

Even without Blatter, FIFA election shenanigans continue

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LONDON (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al Khalifa dismissed a rival’s complaint about his election conduct as “entirely inaccurate” and warned on Saturday against public squabbling.

[ FOLLOW: All the latest FIFA news ]

Prince Ali bin al-Hussein has accused Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman of a “blatant attempt to engineer a bloc vote” by signing a pact between the Asian Football Confederation he leads and its counterpart in Africa. Jordanian federation president Prince Ali on Friday asked FIFA’s election watchdog to investigate whether election rules were broken.

But in a statement on Saturday, titled “An unnecessary spat between FIFA candidates,” Sheikh Salman insisted the Asia-Africa pact was being worked on months before he decided to run in the Feb. 26 election to replace Sepp Blatter.

“I am astonished about my friend’s comments, which are wholly dismissed and entirely inaccurate,” Sheikh Salman said.

[ MORE: New “Laws of the Game” approved, to be implemented at EURO 2016 ]

The Bahraini royal said that talks about the “memorandum of understanding” started when the general secretaries of the Asia and African governing bodies met in May. He noted that the AFC has similar cooperation agreements with FIFA and two other regional bodies: UEFA and CONCACAF.

“As AFC president, one of my duties is to seek development-knowhow sharing opportunities for the AFC around the world and to establish solid ties with like-minded football professionals,” the sheikh said.

[ MORE: World Cup votes sparked investigation that downed Blatter, Platini ]

Sheikh Salman and Prince Ali are competing against UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino, former FIFA official Jerome Champagne, and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale in a five-man election field.

Prince Ali was beaten in May’s presidential election by Blatter, who announced resignation plans the following week in the wake of criminal investigations into FIFA officials, and was later banished from world soccer for eight years by the ethics judge.

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

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MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) 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.

[ FOLLOW: All the latest FIFA news ]

“I don’t want too much power with the president – the power has to be shared,” Sheikh Salman said in an interview with The Associated Press. “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 hour-long interview in the Bahraini capital Manama.

[ MORE: Blatter in hospital after “small breakdown” ]

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.

The decision to stand was effectively a toss-up between Sheikh Salman and fellow FIFA executive committee member Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti who built his powerbase through the Olympic movement.

“We felt after Michel’s ban we felt one of us has to go,” Sheikh Salman said. “And I think that he looks at it as (a job for) the president of a confederation … it wasn’t a difficult choice between us.”

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.

[ MORE: Platini: “I am the most able to run world football” ]

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.

[ MORE: Blatter: “I hope to be back as FIFA president” ]

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.”

If elected until 2019, the sheikh would have to grapple with the impact of Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup. Beyond ongoing geo-political concerns, Moscow has faced renewed accusations about the probity of its bid since Blatter suggested there was a backroom deal to award the showpiece to Russia for the first time.

“With any vote regarding a World Cup probably the ExCo will talk to say `Yes – how do you feel this and that?”‘ said the sheikh, who was not on the executive committee at the time of the 2010 vote. “Definitely it’s not rigged. You share your views … that doesn’t mean you already made an agreement.”

The agreements that will be a priority for the next FIFA president are with sponsors. Only seven of 14 available positions in FIFA’s top two commercial categories have been filled, with Dubai-based airline Emirates and Sony among those sponsors yet to be replaced.

“Once people see there is stability and there is a will to do things in the right way I think they will come back,” the sheik said.

“There is no place for, you know, hiding issues away from the public or away from our members.”