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Sheikh Salman, Asia’s soft-spoken strongman – ‘We need some stability’

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 16, (Agencies): Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa isn’t the first Asian football chief to aspire to run FIFA, but with his powerful backers and opportunistic timing he could be the first to succeed.

The soft-spoken Bahraini royal took over an Asian confederation in turmoil after Mohamed bin Hammam was kicked out in disgrace, and now enjoys an iron grip on the body.

It’s a trick he may now want to repeat at FIFA, roiled by wave after wave of scandal which have prompted some to call for a complete overhaul of its structures and governance.

Sheikh Salman’s expected bid comes just four years after bin Hammam’s attempt to topple FIFA chief Sepp Blatter in 2011 ended in accusations of bribery and a ban from football.

But the situation is now very different. Blatter, suspended and facing criminal charges, is on his way out and many of the old guard are trapped in the wreckage as his regime collapses.

Critically, Sheikh Salman is supported by Kuwaiti powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad al Sabah, one of the most influential figures in world sport and a major player in both FIFA and the Olympic movement.

Sheikh Ahmad was a key backer when Sheikh Salman swept to power at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) by a landslide in 2013, promising to wipe the slate clean after the bin Hammam years.

“I think what we need is some stability,” Sheikh Salman told AFP at the time. “Everybody has suffered in the past two years, we’ve had all this talk and uncertainty on the organisational level.”

This year, he was re-elected unopposed for a full, four-year term and became a FIFA vice president into the bargain, assuming the post previously held by his rival and FIFA candidate Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan.

A tougher style was also evident at the AFC congress — held in Sheikh Salman’s power base of Bahrain — as he silenced a South Korean protest and did not allow any speakers from the floor.

The Manchester United fan has come a long way after drifting between careers and eventually finding his way into sports administration.

Sheikh Salman, now 49, lived and studied accountancy in London before dropping out in the mid-1980s, and once also worked as a customs officer in Bahrain.

In 1992, in his late twenties, he graduated with a degree in English literature and history from the University of Bahrain but then moved into the “family business” of construction, real estate and import-export.

FIFA removed the entire executive committee of Thailand’s football association (FAT) on Friday, four days after its president Worawi Makudi was suspended pending an ethics investigation by soccer’s governing body.

FIFA said that it had put in place a so-called “normalisation committee” to oversee the election of a new executive committee by Feb 16 “at the latest”.

“The FIFA Emergency Committee has decided … to remove the executive committee of the Football Association of Thailand from office and to appoint a normalisation committee in its place,” said soccer’s governing body in a statement.

Worawi, who had been FAT president since 2007, was provisionally banned for 90 days on Monday over a possible breach of FIFA’s code of ethics.

The 63-year-old, who was on the FIFA executive committee in December 2010 when it voted to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar, will now face a formal investigation by soccer’s governing body.

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