Fifa presidential election: Governing body dismisses fears over Sheikh Salman human rights record

Bahraini front-runner faces questions over his past

Fifa has denied that the questions surrounding the alleged collusion in the imprisonment and torture of pro-democracy campaigners by one of the candidates in Friday’s presidential election is an embarrassment which undermines the organisation’s new commitment to human rights.

The conduct of Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain has been the subject of persistent questioning, with Football Association chairman Greg Dyke declaring this year: “Can you have someone from Bahrain running world football, in charge of world football, given what happened there four years ago? I have my doubts.” 

Human rights groups have also criticised Sheikh Salman, who was Bahrain’s football federation president in 2011 when the Bahraini state is alleged to have imprisoned and tortured athletes, including members of the national football team, for participating in anti-government protests. But a Fifa legal source told The Independent that any questions surrounding the integrity and eligibility of candidates had been investigated by the ad hoc electoral committee head, Domenico Scala.

“Human rights are enshrined in our work and constitution, and the executive committee is committed to it irrespective of who is president,” said the spokesman. “The political side in Bahrain – we cannot comment on that. The electoral committee responsible for ensuring integrity of candidates has approved the integrity and eligibility of five candidates and rejected two.”

Rival candidate Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan – who is also competing against Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino, South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale and Jérôme Champagne, a former Fifa deputy secretary general from France – was reprimanded by Scala for speaking about Sheikh Salman’s past ahead of Friday’s vote to elect a successor to the disgraced Sepp Blatter, whose expulsion from football has been reduced from eight years to six.

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Sheikh Salman has issued a firm denial to the latest allegations of abusing human rights. Prince Ali described the reprimand as belonging to “old Fifa” and declared: “I’m wanting to change that.”

In another sign that the election will contribute to a further muddying of Fifa’s reputation – and fly in the face of painstaking efforts to create a new administrative regime which removes scope for corruption – there was also a legal row over whether voting booths should be transparent.

Fifa had dismissed Prince Ali’s plea to use the transparent booths, but football’s world governing body has been asked to explain its reasons by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas), which will issue a ruling on the matter on Thursday. Fifa has not otherwise engaged in the process, so it remains possible Cas could call for the vote to be postponed. 

Fifa insists it is sufficient for delegates from the 207 voting nations – Kuwait and Indonesia are suspended – to hand over cameras and mobile phones before entering the booths for the vote at the Hallenstadion in Zürich.

Fifa has not ruled out the possibility of further delegate arrests in the next few days, similar to those in dawn raids on the Hotel Baur au Lac during the congress last May.

“There could very well [be arrests],” said the source. “It doesn’t really involve us directly because they are taking people at the hotels or wherever they are. Most of the Fifa officials will be in downtown areas [of Zurich] and in hotels in their own right so if there’s going to be a law enforcement action, it will unfold there. It won’t be in the house of Fifa.”

Fifa indicated its investigations into past wrongdoings within the organisation will run for several years.

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