SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Four years after narrowly losing his bid to join the FIFA executive committee, Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa is running for president of the Asian Football Confederation and looking to mend the organization's relationship with FIFA.
Salman, the head of the Bahrain Football Association, will likely be up against Yousef Al Serkal of the United Arab Emirates and acting-president Zhang Jilong of China in the election in May.
In 2009, Salman came within two votes of defeating Mohamed bin Hammam for a seat on the FIFA executive committee. The election campaign became a bitter battle that widened divisions in Asia, and deepened when Bin Hammam was suspended and eventually banned for life by FIFA amid allegations of financial irregularities.
"What happened in the past is something that we have to learn from and shouldn't be repeated," Salman told The Associated Press. "The past two years has seen enough bad publicity and it just gave us a bad image. We have to clear this up and have a wind of change and a new beginning. It is time to have unity and solidarity in Asia.
"There are many things that need to be done. The first is to establish trust in the relationship between the national associations and the AFC. And the second is to build a bridge between us and other confederations and FIFA. The mistrust between FIFA and AFC has to be repaired."
Since Bin Hamman was suspended in May 2011, Zhang has been acting president. But he has yet to confirm is candidacy for the vote at the AFC Congress in Kuala Lumpur on May 2 and 3. The deadline for nominations is March 3.
Salman, a member of the Bahrain ruling royal family, said his experience in 2009 will help him in the upcoming campaign with the insight it provided into Asian football politics.
"The big advantage is that people know me and I know lots of people and the relationships are ongoing. There is no bad feeling with the people who didn't vote for me," Salman said. "I have to convince them I am the right candidate. "
Salman also said that the ongoing political unrest in Bahrain and the reports of national team players being placed under arrest shortly after participating in pro-democracy demonstrations in February 2011 is not relevant to his bid.
"We'd like to keep sport as it is and the political side we never talk about. People will talk about what happened, we have all the players playing and we never suspended any players and this is something that we are against," Salman said. "There is progress in the political situation with negotiations still going on with the opposition and government but ... I want to talk about football."