FIFA’s election committee approved Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa on Thursday as a candidate for next February’s presidential election, despite allegations that he was complicit in human rights violations of Bahraini protesters in 2011. International soccer’s governing body cleared Salman to run even as it banned presidential hopeful Musa Bility of Liberia for unspecified violations of its integrity check.
Several prominent human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have questioned Sheikh Salman’s candidacy due to his apparent involvement in the Bahraini royal family’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. The groups allege that Sheikh Salman, a member of the royal family and former head of the Bahrain Football Association, participated in efforts to jail – and, in some cases, torture – soccer players who participated in the protests.
FIFA officials “assessed any allegations against the candidates carefully, including those against Sheikh Salman concerning his alleged involvement into the events in Bahrain in 2011,” the election panel said, according to Reuters. An investigation did not uncover evidence of “any personal or direct involvement” from Sheikh Salman in connection to the human rights violations,” the panel added.
“The integrity check included a review of corporate records, litigation cases, bankruptcy proceedings, potential regulatory actions taken against the candidate and a review of media reports concerning potential red flags -- such as fraudulent behavior, match manipulation, human rights violations, etc. Each candidate was then asked to comment on the content of the details reported produced,” FIFA said in its announcement regarding the approved candidates.
FIFA ethics review knocks out Musa Bility, clears Sheikh Salman of Bahrain, which is accused of torturing players https://t.co/RqZ6Ong3jy
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) November 12, 2015
Sheikh Salman, who has served as president of the influential Asian Football Confederation since 2013, has repeatedly denied any involvement in the 2011 crackdown. “It’s not just damaging me, it’s damaging the people and the country,” he told the BBC in October. “These are false, nasty lies that have been repeated again and again in the past and the present.”
In all, FIFA’s election committee approved five applicants – Sheikh Salman, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, Jerome Champagne of France, UEFA executive Gianni Infantino and Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa – for entry into the presidential race. Outgoing FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced an emergency election to name his successor last summer, just days after nine current and former FIFA executives were arrested on corruption charges.
FIFA has yet to determine if UEFA Chief Michel Platini, the one-time front-runner to replace Blatter, will be permitted to stand in next February’s election. Platini and Blatter were each suspended last month for at least 90 days amid a Swiss probe into a suspicious $2 million payment Blatter made to Platini in 2011. FIFA officials have said they will not reach as determination on Platini’s bid until later this year, when an internal investigation into his activity is complete. Both Platini and Blatter have denied any wrongdoing.
The election committee rejected Bility’s application entirely after an integrity check, through officials declined to specifically say which aspects of his record merited concern.
“For reasons of protection of personality rights, the Ad Hoc Electoral Committee – while it has explained its considerations in detail to Musa Hassan Bility – will not comment publicly on the specifics of its decision,” FIFA said in a statement.