KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- AFC boss Sheikh Salman of Bahrain is reportedly considering a bid for the FIFA presidency in a sign that Asia is losing faith in Michel Platini after events and revelations in Zurich at the end of last week.
Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa was given significant support in attaining the leadership of the Asian Football Confederation two years ago by Olympics movement powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah.
The latter had joined Sheikh Salman and UEFA president Platini on the world federation’s executive committee in May and had indicated an intention of using his influence to join Sheikh Salman in swinging Asian votes behind Platini in the extraordinary congress election to choose a successor to embattled Sepp Blatter next February 26.
Earlier this year, when Sheikh Ahmad won approval from the AFC to join the FIFA exco, it was thought likely that he might consider a run of his own for the presidency in 2019.
That prospect was stalled, however, after Blatter’s shock U-turn in announcing his impending resignation only four days after having been re-elected.
Nine days after a new election date was set so Platini announced his candidacy and was then considered clear favourite, particularly as he had already undertaken informal talks with Sheikh Ahmad during Olympic movement events in Switzerland.
Sheikh Ahmad is not only a member of the International Olympic Committee but president of the Association of Olympic Committees, the Olympic Council of Asia and the development-supporting Olympic Solidarity operation.
Platini has not yet launched a manifesto however and his campaign and credibility were washed in doubt after he was questioned by Swiss police last Friday, immediately after a FIFA exco meeting, about a ‘disloyal payment’ from Blatter and FIFA of 2m Swiss francs back in February 2011.
The Frenchman, a vice-president of FIFA, has said that the payment was a final instalment for work commissioned by FIFA between 1999 and 2002. However the nine-year gap between commission and payment has undermined Platini’s credibility with even the hitherto supportive French media.
It is understood that Sheikh Ahmad and Sheikh Salman have been reconsidering Asia’s support for Platini ever since Friday evening. The Frenchman’s failure to quell a rising tide of concern has prompted further consideration of whether Sheikh Salman should stand himself.
The Qatar factor
Qatar would certainly welcome the prospect of his presidency. Sheikh Salman has been a firm supporter of Qatar’s World Cup hosting and chaired the calendar committee which recommended the revolutionary interruption of the world’s domestic schedules to accommodate a winter tournament in November/December 2022.
The Qataris are also aware that Platini’s withdrawal from the FIFA presidency race would prompt demands from western European leagues, angry at the prospect of 2022 chaos, to review the hosting award.
UEFA’s 54 FIFA-member associations may also need to review their strategy for the FIFA election. If Platini appears fatally damaged they may start considering who might be a valid alternative candidate.
A Sheikh Salman candidacy would also complicate the prospects for Prince Ali of Jordan who is standing again even though, with significant European support, he was unable to dislodge Blatter last May.
With the nominations deadline fast approaching on October 26, European federations do not have long to consider the Platini Problem. Clearly the Asian federations are already out there.