The Asian Football Confederation today reiterated its support for its leader, Shaikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, in his bid for the FIFA Presidency following a meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
The governing body for football in Asia had already urged their Associations to support Shaikh Salman’s campaign and the further endorsement comes after fellow challenger Gianni Infantino lobbied for support at the meeting of AFC officials.
The Bahraini was not in attendance at the meeting as he reportedly feels he has enough support to be elected as the next head of the corruption-plagued governing body at the Extraordinary Congress, due to take place on February 26 in Zurich.
Infantino was the only one of the five candidates to attend the meeting in the Malaysian capital.
“Our vision is one Asia, one goal,” AFC Marketing Committee chairman Richard Lai said.
“Our goal is a united Asia and to demonstrate that we must unite behind our President in the FIFA election.
"At present Asia has two candidates for the FIFA Presidency.
“We must unite behind the one who will deliver these reforms and that is the AFC President.
“The AFC should not just support the reform process but be a part of it.”
Shaikh Salman has come under attack from both Infantino and Asian counterpart Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, President of the Jordan Football Association, who is also standing in the five-strong race for the FIFA Presidency, over allegations he was complicit in the torture of Bahraini athletes in 2011.
Infantino made the comments in a letter to campaign group Human Rights Watch after Shaikh Salman signed an amended version of a human rights pledge put forward by Amnesty International.
He claimed that “it is a simple act to sign a ‘pledge’, yet the real test of a pledge and the character of the person signing it is in their concrete actions, not words”.
Prince Ali had had earlier accused the AFC chief of failing to protect his players during the time of the anti-Government protests.
Shaikh Salman denies any involvement in the accusations and offered a “one million” per cent guarantee that no athletes were tortured in an interview with Sky Sports.
Infantino has now switched his attention to lobbying for support from African Member Associations, despite the Executive Committee of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) declaring their backing for Shaikh Salman.
The race for the top job at world football’s governing body has turned ugly in recent weeks, with Infantino and Prince Ali’s respective attacks on Shaikh Salman coming amid a bizarre furore concerning the Jordanian’s public relations head Shimon Cohen.
Mohammed Al Mudaweb, who works for the Bahraini Football Associationd, had been accused of conducting a smear campaign against Cohen after suggesting he was a former Israeli footballer.
He is, in fact, a 55-year-old Welshman rather than the footballer of the same name, who played nine times for the Israeli national team in the 1960s.
"This is a disgraceful racist attack by Salman's home FA, implying that just because I am a Jew, there is an Israeli plot afoot," Cohen said.
"A Google search would have shown I'm a Welsh PR guy, not a retired footballer."
Prince Ali today announced plans to create a FIFA Oversight Group to help lead the world governing body out of the mire should he be elected.
The group would be led by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and also include Rick Parry, formerly chief executive of the Premier League, Ernesto Zedillo, the ex-President of Mexico, and Catherine Bertini, a one-time executive director of the World Food Programme.
"The FIFA Oversight Group will serve as the safest possible pair of hands to put FIFA back on track," Prince Ali said.
“It is an essential element to revive FIFA’s reputation and restore it to what it should be – a service organisation for football."
Frenchman Jérôme Champagne and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale are the other two candidates in the race.