Bahraini Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa barely had time to toast his landslide victory in the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) presidential election yesterday before he was again the target of accusations over human rights abuses in Bahrain.
Adept at ducking and deflecting questions during his election campaign about a bloody 2011 uprising, an emboldened Sheik Salman went on the offensive at his first news conference after winning the top job in Asian soccer.
“I have no problem, I will answer that,” he said when an AFC official attempted to block a question. “I just have one question: You talk about allegations, but the question is, do you have the proof?”
“Somebody talks about the government, I don’t think this our business in football, we are football people. If anybody has the proof that the Bahrain Football Association has violated the statutes of FIFA or AFC then present it, otherwise we move on,” he said.
Sheikh Salman, the head of the Bahraini Football Association, was the AFC’s clear choice in the presidential election, winning 33 of the 46 votes on offer.
Rival Yousuf al-Serkal of the United Arab Emirates garnered just six votes and Thailand’s Worawi Makudi won seven.
Sheikh Salam also beat Qatari 2022 World Cup organizer Hassan al-Thawadi to claim a seat on FIFA’s all-powerful executive committee.
Sheikh Salman said he would push on in his two-year term to bring about reform to the AFC, which was hit again this week by the eight-year ban for member Vernon Fernando of Sri Lanka for unethical behaviour.
His success came in the face of pressure from human rights groups concerning the crushing of a pro-democracy uprising in Bahrain two years ago, accusing Sheikh Salman of standing by as soccer players were persecuted for protesting.
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) sent a letter to AFC delegates last week urging them not to vote for Sheikh Salman, but the pleas fell on deaf ears.
ADHRB director Husain Abdulla told reporters he had expected Sheikh Salman to win as he held little faith in the integrity of the AFC or FIFA, which have had key figures resign amid corruption charges.
“I am not surprised that he won both position given the fact that corruption is rooted into these two bodies,” Abdulla said. “However, as a human rights organisation we were able to highlight the atrocities that took place against the football players in Bahrain and we used this election venue to do that.”
ADHRB said that, under the direction of Sheikh Salman, a member of Bahrain’s royal family, soccer players were arrested, detained, abused, tortured and publicly humiliated.
“Salman Alkhalifa, despite human rights violations, wins presidency. When ur from the gulf human rights dont matter,” Maryam al-Khawaia, acting head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, said on Twitter.
Bahrain crushed Shiite-led pro-democracy demonstrations that began in February 2011. At least 35 people were killed. Lower-level unrest has continued since then.
An independent inquiry said authorities had used widespread and excessive force, including torture, to extract confessions.
Manama says it has taken steps to address the brutality of the security forces by dismissing those responsible and introducing cameras at police stations to monitor abuses, but the Shiite-led Bahraini opposition feel the Sunni-ruling Al Khalifa family has not made serious reforms.