MANAMA: One of Asian football’s presidential hopefuls has refuted renewed claims by a human rights group that Bahrain national team players were arrested and tortured under his watch.

Sheik Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa is a member of the ruling royal family and president of the island’s football association.

He was responding this time to criticism from two human rights groups.

Sheikh Salman is one of four candidates for election in Kuala Lumpur next Thursday to the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC); rivals for the post vacated by the disgraced Mohamed bin Hammam are Hafez Al-Madej (Saudi Arabia), Worawi Makudi (Thailand) and Yousuf Al-Serkal (UAE).

One human rights group has urged FIFA to bar Sheikh Salman from the election while Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain has written to all the AFC delegates claiming that Bahrain players who took part in pro-democracy, anti-regime protests in 2011 were arrested and tortured.

They included brothers Mohammed Hubail and brother Alaa – the country’s top striker – along with Sayed Mohamed Adnan.

‘Right decision’

The letter stated: “In light of the abuses inflicted upon players under the leadership of Sheikh Al Khalifa, as well as their ongoing suspension from the sport, we ask that you make the right decision by choosing not to elect Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa to the position of president of the AFC.”

Sheikh Salman has already had to deny allegations of improper election support from the Olympic Council of Asia.

He said: “I would like to reiterate that, as president of the Bahrain FA, I have always been committed to manage, control and develop our game independently and autonomously without any kind of outside interference.

“I can assure anyone that the BFA is being guided according to the highest possible governance standards of integrity and transparency — fully in line with the AFC and FIFA statutes; and no action has been taken under my direction against any member of the football community.

“I therefore vehemently deny all allegations made in this letter. The content of this letter is a clear attempt to damage my personal reputation and to interfere with the AFC presidential elections.”