The perceived inaction from Sheikh Salman and the AFC prompted a fierce public backlash . However, it appears not to have damaged his standing within Asian football, with the FFA confirming they will not break rank from ASEAN and will vote for Salman’s re-election on April 6.
The basis of FFA’s support of Sheikh Salman is understood to stem from the financial growth of Asian football under his leadership, while sources suggest FFA did not have as much faith the two other candidates – Mohamed Khalfan Al Romaithi from the UAE and Qatar’s Saoud Aziz A Al-Mohannadi – would achieve similar results.
“It was the consensus view of all of ASEAN that Shaikh Salman is the best credentialed candidate to continue to lead the development of football both in ASEAN and in Asia more broadly,” FFA chairman Chris Nikou said.
“Under the leadership of the Shaikh Salman, the size of the AFC Asian Cup has expanded, the FIFA World Cup qualification process has broadened, new football development initiatives have been introduced, prizemoney and subsidies for clubs participating in the AFC Champions League have increased and significantly improved terms were secured with AFC’s new marketing rights partner.”
Their decision was slammed by Foster, who advocated strongly for the release of Al-Araibi, travelling to Bangkok in support of the player, as well to Zurich where FIFA’s offices are located. The SBS personality and former took to social media to slam the FFA’s decision.
“This is sickening given the circumstances that the nation, and football globally, has just witnessed in the case of Hakeem al-Araibi,” Foster said in a statement. “The conduct of Salman during the incarceration of Hakeem was unconscionable and requires investigation by FIFA, the Centre of Sport and Human Rights (CSHR) and FIFPro as the global players’ representative body.”
Foster submitted a detailed letter to FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura on March 14 questioning the eligibility of Sheikh Salman on ethical grounds and breaches of human rights’ policies and slated the FFA for their continual support of the AFC president.
“That Australia could even contemplate voting for such a candidate makes a mockery of any discussion of fundamental values within the game,” he said.
In a statement release on Monday, the FFA acknowledged the role of the AFC in the al-Araibi case, in which Sheikh Salman recuse himself of but only on January 29.
“During this time we were in regular dialogue with the AFC, FIFA and the Australian Government to ensure appropriate steps were taken to support efforts for Hakeem’s release and we did this privately by lobbying those in positions of influence and ultimately, through the work of many, the right outcome was achieved,” Nikou said.