Asian football candidate denies player persecution
A leading candidate to become Asia's next football boss has made a fresh denial that players were persecuted under his direction in Bahrain after a rights group urged delegates to vote against him.
Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, a Bahraini royal and head of the country's football association, made the comments after the US-based group said players were tortured and abused during a crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
The controversy comes just a week before Sheikh Salman stands as one of four candidates for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), a post vacated by Mohamed bin Hammam after claims of bribery and financial wrongdoing.
"I would like to reiterate that in my capacity as the president of the Bahrain Football Association (BFA) -- I have always been committed to manage, control and develop our game independently and autonomously without any kind of outside interference," Sheikh Salman said in a statement late on Wednesday.
"I can assure anyone that the BFA is being guided according to the highest possible governance standards of integrity and transparency -- fully in line with the AFC and FIFA statutes; and no action has been taken under my direction against any member of the football community.
"I therefore vehemently deny all allegations made in this letter. The content of this letter is a clear attempt to damage my personal reputation and to interfere with the AFC presidential elections taking place in Kuala Lumpur on 2 May 2013."
In the letter to members of the AFC Congress, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) said players who took part in protests in 2011 were arrested and tortured.
Bahrain international Mohammed Hubail was convicted and sentenced at a closed-door trial, while his brother Alaa, the country's top striker, and fellow national player Sayed Mohamed Adnan were also punished, the group said.
"Under the direction of Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa, head of the Bahrain Football Association and member of Bahrain's royal family, football players were arrested, detained, abused, tortured, and publicly humiliated," it said.
It added: "In light of the abuses inflicted upon football players under the leadership of Sheikh Al Khalifa, as well as their ongoing suspension from the sport, we ask that you make the right decision by choosing not to elect Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa to the position of president of the AFC."
Last week, Sheikh Salman also rejected claims of a vote-buying scandal after the Inside World Football website said the powerful Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) may try to interfere with next week's election in Kuala Lumpur.
The site said various sources had confirmed attempts by the OCA to influence the 2009 AFC vote, which Sheikh Salman lost to bin Hammam, and added that the Kuwait-based body had booked 25 rooms at the hotel hosting next week's poll.
Two of the sheikh's rivals, Thailand's Worawi Makudi and Yousef Al Serkal of UAE, called for a "clean" contest in light of the vote-buying claims. The OCA did not comment on the allegations.
"We do not need to be surrounded by another possible vote-buying allegation which involves AFC," Serkal told AFP via email.
The 46-member AFC is trying to turn the page on the dark bin Hamman episode, after the Qatari was accused of bribery during the 2011 FIFA presidential vote and received a life ban from football.
Asian football is also battling other problems such as major match-rigging scandals in several countries, including China and South Korea, and an international fixing network said to be based in Singapore.
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