The first sign of a crack in the polite public facade of the FIFA election campaign has appeared with Prince Ali of Jordan complaining about the strategy of Sheikh Salman.
Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, Bahraini head of the Asian Football Confederation, sailed close to the regulatory wind when he signed a co-operation deal in Rwanda on Friday with the Confederation of African Football.
The sight of Sheikh Salman cosying up to CAF president Issa Hayatou, who is also interim head of the world federation after the banning of Sepp Blatter, raised eyebrows in the corridors of power.
Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, who denied Blatter a first-round knockout in last year’s election, has registered his concern with the FIFA electoral committee. Candidates are supposedly barred from using their official positions to promote their bid for the presidency.
In a statement Prince Ali said: “I am concerned that there has been an attempt to breach electoral rules in the FIFA presidential election. I have written to the FIFA ad hoc electoral committee informing them of my concerns and asking them to examine the matter.
“I have always promoted cross-regional understanding, however the timing of this MOU between the AFC and the CAF looks like a blatant attempt to engineer a bloc vote.
“Africa’s proud football associations are not for sale and development resources belonging to national football associations should not be used by presidential candidates and confederation presidents for political expediency.
“Questions must be asked: was this deal approved by the members of the executive committees of both the AFC and CAF and is the timing of the announcement, prior to a presidential election, acceptable?
“Now more than ever, this apparent exploitation of confederation resources shows the world that the actions of individuals must stop bringing FIFA into disrepute.”
This is not the first controversy to assail Sheikh Salman.
Last year the South Korean Chung Mong-joon complained in vain to the electoral committee that Sheikh Salman – before running himself – had been promoting the presidential ambitions of UEFA president Michel Platini.
Human rights groups then sought, again in vain, to persuade the electoral committee that Sheikh Salman should be barred from standing because of reports concerning his involvement in the detention and torture of Bahraini footballers after the protests crackdown in 2011.
Sheikh Salman vehemently denied the allegations and was cleared to be a candidate. Indeed, he is now the favourite in the five-man field.
CAF general secretary Hicham El Amrani has insisted that the CAF-AFC deal was not connected to the presidential election campaign.
He said: “This is something that has been in the pipeline for a long time and did not pop up yesterday. It is not whatsoever linked to politics.
“Those who want to look at it that way can do so but for us, we are solely focused on the purpose, and that is to harness partnerships between Africa and Asia.
“Every confederation has something to offer to us and we also have something to offer with them. Asia will be particularly of help to us in matters of coaching. In the past, AFC has not recognized CAF coaching badges and this agreement will see that change.”
On February 5 the African confederation’s executive committee will decide on its stance concerning the FIFA election and whether to recommend a candidate to its 54 member associations.
The other three candidates are Gianni Infantino, the Swiss general secretary of UEFA, South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale and French former FIFA official Jerome Champagne.