“The football world needs to know how Salman can possibly be deemed eligible given the litany of issues since at least 2011,” Foster said.
“For reasons of probity and integrity of the game, FIFA should publish the evidence considered by the FIFA Review Committee and reasons for the decision which, in the circumstances, is simply extraordinary and goes to the heart of standards of sport governance. Or lack thereof.”
It is the global governing body’s responsibility to vet candidates for the AFC election as the confederation’s presidency also carries with it a seat as vice-president of FIFA.
Foster said it was “highly concerning” that Salman was recused by AFC from matters relating to the West Zone – and thus al-Araibi’s detention – the day after Bahrain submitted formal extradition papers, 61 days after the former international footballer was first arrested.
“This is one reason why I rushed across to Zurich to urge FIFA to escalate the urgency of the matter,” Foster said.
“This circumstance requires investigation as to whether, in fact, he waited until the submission was made before stepping aside, severely prejudicing Hakeem’s right to appropriate advocacy from the Presidential office throughout the preceding 2 months.
“This inference is only strengthened by the provision of a long-awaited supporting statement by the AFC only three days after publication of Salman’s purported recusal, on the 64th day of detention.
“Many questions require urgent answers to satisfy the football public. Why wait 61 days to purport to have been recused from matters concerning the West Asian Zone a full 18 months prior? And why the day after submission by Bahrain of court documentation?”
Foster also called for a fresh investigation from FIFA into the bribery scandal, from which Salman emerged unscathed, and for a third party to take a closer look at the 2011 crackdown on athletes in Bahrain and uncover precisely who was involved.
“The integrity of all sport demands it. It is clearly one of the most heinous examples of systematic abuse of athletes in recent decades,” he said.
“In the absence of independent investigations the football community have reason to be concerned about the integrity of both the AFC and FIFA should Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa be re-elected.”
Salman’s challengers in the election are Mohammed Khalfan Al-Romaithi of the UAE and Qatar’s Saoud al-Mohannadi. Football Federation Australia chairman Chris Nikou, meanwhile, is also running for a position on the AFC’s executive committee – which, some have claimed, is the reason why FFA was not more publicly involved in the campaign to free al-Araibi. FFA is also trying to position Australia’s bid to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup as the preferred bid from Asia.
Nikou told journalists on Wednesday that FFA had not decided who to support in the AFC election, but it looms as a difficult choice in the circumstances.
A vote for Salman would put FFA in the firing line given the high levels of public interest in the al-Araibi case, yet voting against him could lead to serious repercussions for Australia if he were to win.
“I haven’t spoken to the board about this,” Nikou said. “But I understand the concern. History tells us that this is very fluid. This thing is going to move is my guess. We’ll make a call closer to the day.”
Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.