Soccer

Salman sidesteps rights abuse claims in Bahrain

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MANAMA, Bahrain (AP)

Sheik Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa launched his campaign to head Asian football with plenty of talk about match fixing, grassroots football and more equitable spending of revenues.

But when it came to human rights in his divided nation of Bahrain, Sheik Salman had little to say.

Sheik Salman, who is bidding to become Asian Football Confederation president, refused to answer a question about rights abuses during Tuesday's press conference.

And in an interview with The Associated Press, Sheik Salman said allegations of footballers in the Gulf nation being detained and tortured during anti-government protests was an issue for politicians, not the football association he heads.

Bahrain has been wracked by more than two years of unrest between the Sunni-led government and majority Shiites seeking a greater political voice.

''Is it under my responsibility as an FA? Have they been treated ill because of their football reasons?'' asked Sheik Salman, a member of Bahrain's ruling family. ''We have to focus on the responsibility of the FA. My responsibility is to protect this family from any wrongdoing inside and outside which is related to football matters. Political motivation is something different.''

Sheik Salman dismissed any suggestion that the FA should apologize for the alleged mistreatment and insisted he did not expect the allegations of rights abuses to hurt his chances in the AFC election on May 2.

''I think they (voters) are mature enough to know what is right and what is wrong and I believe they will take the right decision,'' he said.

Sheik Salman faces Yousuf al-Serkal of the United Arab Emirates, Worawi Makudi of Thailand and Hafez Al Medlej of Saudi Arabia are bidding to replace scandal-tainted Mohammed bin Hammam.

Bin Hammam, who became AFC president in 2002, was found guilty of vote-buying during his challenge against FIFA President Sepp Blatter in 2011. He was banned for life by FIFA last December.

In May 2009, Sheik Salman challenged bin Hammam for his seat on FIFA's executive committee, only to lose a bitter election by two votes.

''People have a choice to leave matters as they are and choose a candidate from the existing administration or they can choose a change that I can bring to the whole continent,'' Sheik Salman said. ''We want to have people who are ambitious, who want that change, who want to introduce financial reports in a transparent way. No matter how small or big you are you will be treated the same way.''

If elected, Sheik Salman said he would act on an audit completed last year which accused bin Hammam of receiving millions of dollars from individuals linked to AFC contracts and spending tens of thousands on items such as a honeymoon, dental work, haircuts and cash payments for his family. Payments are alleged to have been made to Asian, African and Caribbean football officials.

''If there was wrongdoing in the past, it has to be corrected,'' he said. ''If I succeed on the 2nd of May, we need to keep our (member associations) and FIFA aware of all the wrongdoing in the past and how we can correct things. The most important thing is to have Asia united again.''

He has also promised greater financial transparency and a crackdown on match fixing, and also wants to improve football at the grassroots level and distribute AFC funding more fairly than in the past.

''We want a system that is fair, not a distribution system that depends on who you know,'' he said.

Sheik Salman also sidestepped allegations raised by al-Serkal that the Olympic Committee of Asia and its president, Sheik Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah of Kuwait, were meddling in the AFC election by supporting the Bahraini.

''There is so much support from everywhere,'' he said when asked about Sheik Ahmad. ''I am not saying who is supporting Serkal or any of the other candidates. I think we should focus on our program and stop the negative campaign against other candidates.''

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