"China to be become a serious football power" says Fifa presidential candidate Sheikh Salman
Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa is seen by many as the favourite to be elected president of football's governing body at the elections on February 26. He answered questions from the South China Morning Post about his campaign by email
How can Fifa possibly be redeemed? Surely we should scrap it and start again?
The reforms must be implemented. Further reforms I outlined (www.shaikhsalman.org) need to be adopted. Fifa needs an overhaul. We must rid ourselves of individuals who have brought the organisation into disrepute. After 112 years, Fifa must undergo significant reformation. This does not mean that we should eliminate it but that we must create a new philosophy and a new structure, which corresponds to the 21st century. Fifa today is stuck in the mindset of the 1970s and 1980s. We must adapt to the internet age and restructure, rethink.
How do you answer accusations that having a president accused of human rights abuses is hardly the image Fifa should want to project?
I was never involved in any human rights abuses. I have never actively nor indirectly participated in any nefarious action. I have severally outlined to numerous world media that the allegations against me are politically motivated and entirely false. I have yet to see any hard facts that prove me wrong. It is one thing to allege wrongdoing but it is quite different to prove it. There cannot be any proof but there are continued false allegations.
In China, president Xi Jinping has declared that the country must become a soccer superpower. How could you help the country achieve those goals as president?
As AFC president I have taken a number of steps to support China’s football development. First and foremost, it is China itself who needs to dedicate itself to grassroots programmes, without which there can never be sustainable development. The AFC is actively contributing to that in many ways and through numbers of initiatives.
Many see the World soon Cup going to China. But given the controversy over 2018 and 2022 re workers / human rights abuses etc, would you want more bad headlines along the same lines if it went to China?
I find it difficult to fathom how the world continues to do business with China but at the same time raise the alarm bells each time sport is in the limelight. We need less hypocrisy and more constructive support from the very people who are happy to criticise when it suits them and always prepared to judge when it does not.
What would a China World Cup mean for the global game?
It would certainly add to the enthusiasm in the whole of Asia and showcase our sport in a region where two-thirds of the world population live.
How important is China to world football?
China will eventually become a serious football power if it continues on the path of technical development and investment into grassroots football. A nation that has well over a billion inhabitants will find 11 players who are world class. Of that I am certain. But nothing can be done without determination and commitment to development. I believe that China is ready to take the next big step and with the support of the president the future of football in China is very bright.
Having been AFC chief, how would you ensure Asia is at the forefront of world football under his leadership at Fifa?
Pretty much the same way as I have over the past two, soon three years. We have made massive strides in all areas and our focus on development is bar none. No child can become a doctor if he or she doesn’t study hard at primary and secondary school, then university. It is the same with football: a career starts at age six when gifted youngsters are encouraged to excel. That is why under-15 and similar national and international tournaments are critical. And that is why school football and junior level football development are the key.
What concrete steps would you take to ensure Fifa becomes a model of transparency and good governance?
In my campaign platform, I make it quite clear that we must rid ourselves of all bad apples who have caused so many problems for the organisation. In my view, it is not the organisation as such that is the problem. It is individuals who are driven by greed who are. We must exercise control over the flow of funds and separate money from the game as much as possible. That is why I want to introduce a new entity that has but one focus: generate income for “Football Fifa”, similar to the concept that has proven to be so successful at Uefa, where “Business Fifa” focuses on sponsorships and marketing, while “Football Fifa” can focus on the game.