KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Sheikh Salman has told the Asian Football Confederation he intends to stand for re-election as president after seeing off, decisively, the first wave of a Saudi-inspired challenge.

After five years at the head of the Asian game Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa told congress in Kuala Lumpur: “I have informed the AFC executive committee at their recent meeting in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, that I am seeking your support for re-election. I have been honoured to be your president and now I am looking to continue our work together.

“I am also most grateful for the letters of support and encouragement that I have received from 40 of our member associations.”

Happy presidents . . . Gianni Infantino and Sheikh Salman

The AFC has 47 members, with 46 voting, but only four – including Saudi Arabia and its ally the United Arab Emirates – opposed changes to statutes to ensure that he does not depend on support from his own Bahrain FA – which is considered to have fallen into the Saudi camp – for election nomination as had previously been the case.

Gianni Infantino, president of world governing body FIFA, was at congress to hear Sheikh Salman not only confirm his own intention to stand for re-election next April 6 but talk up the achievements of the AFC over the five years since he succeeded the banned Qatari, Mohamed bin Hammam.

Ambitious project

Sheikh Salman said: “When we launched our AFC Vision and Mission in January 2016, we set out to be the world’s leading confederation. It was, of course, ambitious. But what we have achieved in so many areas have ensured we have been leaders in world football.

“Again, this is delivered through our strength of purpose and clarity of vision – and the AFC has reaped the rewards and rightly so.

“We were able to announce a record commercial rights deal with our partners DDMC Fortis. Just 48 hours ago, we signed the long form contract here in Kuala Lumpur. It is an agreement which guarantees the financial stability of not just the AFC but every one of its member associations. Together, we have the opportunity to take football in Asia to a new level – to a brighter future.”

Congress approved the statutes change Sheikh Salman needed which requires candidates for president to be nominated by at least three FAs but not necessarily by their ‘home’ territory. It also approved the recognition of the AFC’s five regional associations and ‘welcomed them as partners’ in delivering the AFC’s Vision and Mission in the years ahead.

He also took a barely-veiled swipe at the Saudi FA, whose former president Adel Ezzat is running for the AFC presidency, over its aggressive political assault on world football in general and the Asian confederation in particular.

Fair play appeal

Sheikh Salman said: “As you know our elections are always based on the spirit of fair play. Like in football, the rules and regulations must be respected.

“In Asia and particularly here at the AFC, we have built a positive reputation and image in the last five years. We do not need nor do we want any third party interference or influence in our elections. We need to be strong on this matter . . . Our family must stick together.”

On the progress of the AFC since 2013, Shaikh Salman said: “The AFC has invested in football and its member associations and this has brought great unity. We must stand together to defend this principle, which has been key to our success over the last few years. The AFC cannot allow anyone to destroy what we have built together.”

** AFC Congress elected the Mongolian federation president, Ganbaatar Amgalanbaatar (East), and the Vietnam FA vice-president, Dr Tran Quoc Tuan (ASEAN), to the AFC executive committee by acclamation for the remainder of the 2015-2019 term.