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Bahraini Sheikh insists war of words is good for Asia

THE Bahraini Sheikh hoping to topple Asian soccer chief Mohamed Bin Hammam believes the bitter power struggle he is embroiled in is healthy for the Asian game.

Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, the first man to challenge Qatar's Bin Hammam since he won his FIFA executive committee seat in 1996, said the mudslinging used in their election campaigns were solid signs of progress.

"What's happening is people are fighting for democracy, justice, equality and transparency, and Asian football has seriously lacked this," Sheikh Salman said. "If we are fighting for our values, I don't see anything wrong with this."

Today's vote for the West Asia seat on the panel of FIFA's top decision makers has taken on added significance since Bin Hammam vowed to quit his seven-year reign as Asian Football Confederation president if defeated. The two campaigns have been riddled with allegations of power abuse, intimidation and vote-buying, with Bin Hammam's opponents in East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Gulf weighing-in with scathing criticism of his rule.

Bin Hammam believes Sheikh Salman's challenge is part of a vendetta and has pulled no punches in chiding the rivals he claims had plotted to use the Bahraini to oust him.

Sheikh Salman said he had not attacked Bin Hammam, but were simply judging his performance.

"This is part of democracy, it's nothing personal," the 43-year-old said. "We need democracy. I don't think under him there has ever been an election, just committees that are appointed, there is no free speech.

"He has attacked those who are supporting me but this has nothing to do with football."

Among Sheikh Salman's election pledges are to increase funding, attract greater commercial investment and develop grassroots soccer in every country, with particular focus on India and China, the world's two most populous countries.

Another of his goals is to bring either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup finals to Asia and convince federations to eventually rally behind one bid in the region. Australia, Qatar, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea are the Asian countries which have submitted initial bids to host the finals.


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