Despite a growing storm of criticism from human rights groups, the Asian Football Confederation president, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, has formally submitted his candidature to be the next president of Fifa after February’s election.
Sheikh Salman, who has been AFC president since 2013, submitted his application on Sunday night after talks with the interim Fifa president and Confederation of African Football leader, Issa Hayatou, in Cairo, according to reports in his native Bahrain. His application was later confirmed by the official Bahrain News Agency.
The Guardian revealed a week last Friday that Sheikh Salman was on the verge of standing for the Fifa presidency after Michel Platini, the Uefa president, was suspended for 90 days along with the outgoing incumbent, Sepp Blatter.
The Bahraini, who backed Blatter in May’s election, had previously pledged to support Platini’s bid to succeed his one-time mentor but began to consider standing himself once the Frenchman was suspended.
Sheikh Salman last week said it was premature to consider him a candidate but said he had been sounded out by senior figures in the football world and urged to stand.
His likely candidature had been heavily criticised by human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.
Sheikh Salman was accused of “complicity in crimes against humanity” for allegedly heading a committee that identified 150 athletes involved in pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011, including international footballers, many of whom were later imprisoned and tortured. He denies the allegations.
Amid ongoing turmoil at Fifa five other candidates have already declared they will stand and have submitted applications accompanied by the requisite nominations from five football associations. Applications must be submitted by Monday night when candidates will undergo a so-called “integrity check”.
They include Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, a former Fifa vice president who lost out to Blatter in May before the Swiss was forced to stand to down , and the French former Fifa executive Jérome Champagne.
The South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale, a former politician who was imprisoned on Robben Island during the apartheid era but is also closely associated with Blatter, and the former Trinidad & Tobago international David Nakhid are also standing.
Platini submitted his formal application hours before he was suspended along with Blatter by Fifa’s ethics committee, putting his chances in serious doubt.
Over the weekend Uefa was still trying to decide whether to support a new candidate in light of Platini’s suspension or swing behind Sheikh Salman. Given the fractured nature of the race, it is likely that the support of Uefa’s 54 members will become split.
Reform campaigners have continually argued for Fifa’s rules to be changed to allow an external candidate to come in and undertake a wholesale reform programme of the crisis-hit governing body.