Salman Bin Al-Khalifa: “FIFA must separate business from football”

50-year-old Sheikh Salman is a first cousin of the king of Bahrain and, with the backing of Asia and Africa, is the odds on favourite to succeed Sepp Blatter as the Fifa president.


Five candidates are vying it out to win Friday’s Fifa presidential election. However, only one can be chosen to take what was Sepp Blatter's place as the administrative head of world football and if the bookies are to be believed that person will be Salman bin Al-Khalifa.

The president of the Asian Football Confederation took some time out of his busy campaign schedule to discuss his manifesto and his love of the beautiful game with AS in an exclusive interview.

What are the most important things you want to do if you’re elected as FIFA president on Friday?

FIFA Presidential candidate Gianni Infantino posing for the cameras at Wembley

First of all I think is to separate the business side from the football side. In FIFA it’s urgent that football and business is separated. FIFA has two sides, one financial and one sporting. My idea is to divide the two powers. With that we can improve, we’ll make the sponsors happy. That’s why we need to choose the best people in business. Hire the perfect people for the job and put them in the right areas. We need to identify football development programmes based on the needs existing in each country, about all those that need the most help. And all of it has to be done in a transparent manner. We need to focus on that.

Have you thought about specific people to do these two jobs?

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Not yet, but they have to be the best. FIFA should copy the model of organisations that work perfectly. The Premier is a great example of how things should be done, separating the two powers, football and business. I’d like someone like the President of the Premier, Richard Scudamore, for the business side, and Sir Alex Ferguson for the football side. They could be FIFA directors and bring their know-how to help us improve. Looking for help and the wisdom of the best is vital for an organisation like ours; it’s what we need to do. In Europe, not just the Premier League has a good structure, the Bundesliga too and the Spanish Liga. People are happy with how the tournaments are run, where football is the main thing, and at the same time, they are successful business models.

What plans do you have for Women’s Football? Will you bring women into the executive bodies of FIFA?

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Women’s Football has grown a lot in recent years and it needs to be looked after. FIFA should support Women’s Football to the maximum. It needs a global development plan, with more powers and an increase in its development budget. And logically, this growth should be reflected in the organisation’s governing bodies. But, in addition to women, we need to implement similar development plans with grassroots football, with children, because they are the future of our sport. We need to support and encourage grass roots football the world over, particularly in less favoured countries.

Do you agree with increasing the World Cup to 40 countries?

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The idea is there and it’s been put to the FIFA Executive Committee, but we need to make sure that, if we agree on that, that there is the right justification that it is a positive move. We have to consult with the stakeholders around the world, because it affects them as well. As an Asian president, yes, I’m in favour. But it’s not just about a number. It’s about the rest of the issues that are related in increasing the number. The professional leagues have a say, the footballers, the union have a say, the clubs as well.

If you’re elected as president will you renounce your right to a salary?

I said that I don’t want to be an executive president. And the definition of an executive president and a non-executive president is that a non-executive president is not paid. If somehow they want an executive president to be there, this is a different situation. But I believe in having the right people in and delegating to them, but on the other hand we have to emphasise as well that the president has to be hands-on to know exactly what happens. It doesn’t mean if he’s non-executive that he’s away. There are some people who are using this as a negative instead of as a positive thing against me. And as for the mandate, the recommendation from the Reform Committee is to have three mandates for the president and the Executive Committee. We in Asia are supporting it. So I think 12 years is a good period for a president, if he’s elected for 12 years, to show his abilities. In my opinion the president of FIFA should dedicate his efforts to developing football as a source of FIFA’s funds. To run FIFA as a professional organisation and not a political one.

In your opinion is it time for a non-European president?

Bahraini Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa speaking in Doha.

I think it’s the time to choose the right person. Whatever his background is, whatever his position is as well. We have to look at all these qualities in the candidate [and look at] what his track record is, and if we feel comfortable that he has the ability to take this organisation forward, then it doesn’t matter what his background is, as long as we feel that he is the right person that we can trust to take this organisation forward. I think things will be very equal up to the vote, but I believe in my chances.

Are you aware of the problems of Ángel Villar in Spain? The Spanish government have opened a case against him that could see him suspended. Do you know about it?

I cannot say anything because it’s an internal problem, a local problem. I have no idea about it.

But do you have a good relationship with Villar? You know him, you’re both FIFA vice-presidents…

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I try to have good relations with everyone, and with Villar too. But as we’re talking about Spain, pass on my regards to Butragueño. And to Del Bosque too, the man behind the recent great successes of football in your country. FIFA needs people like him. We talked of Ferguson before, and now we’re mentioning another of the characters of whom football should be proud: Del Bosque.

We were talking about Villar…

I know him, of course. We’re both FIFA vice-presidents.

I won’t go on anymore about Villar. What feeling do you have about the elections on Friday in Zurich?

I respect all the candidates. But things are looking very good and positive for me and I have a positive feeling for Friday and I hope that things will be good. I think I can help FIFA. That’s why I’m standing.

What do you think is vitally important for FIFA to get out of its current situation?

One of the design proposals ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

I think we have to bring stability back, because without stability there is no development, there is no future, and I think this is what people are looking for. We proved that in Asia, because we had issues in the past, but we have proved that Asia is solid and is united and has one voice, and there is a good understanding and a good atmosphere. That’s what we want to do for FIFA.

What do you think about the World Cups in Russia and Qatar?

I think that Russia deserves to host the World Cup in 2018 and Qatar as well [in 2022]. 2018 is ongoing now, so there is no need even to talk about the World Cup in Russia and their Local Organising Committee are doing a great job under their chairman Vitaly Mutko, and his CEO is doing a great job so we’re all looking forward to a great and successful World Cup in Russia. And in Qatar, the 2022 Local Organising Committee have already started on the infrastructure and they’re moving ahead, and as an Asian and the Asian Football Confederation president I’m sure that we will have a terrific and successful World Cup in Qatar, because I know how much has been invested for this event. And believe me, I know that it’s going to be some of the most successful World Cups ever.

Are you a Real Madrid or Barcelona fan? Isn’t it true that everyone in the world is a fan of their local side and either Real Madrid or Barcelona?

UEFA Vice-President Angel Villar

I support Manchester United. We’re not having our best time, but we’ll be back soon, with players as good as Mata, who I like a lot. But we all follow the Spanish league and we always have people that’s supporting either team and that rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona is not only in Spain, it’s in the rest of the world. It’s a worldwide rivalry. It’s a great thing for football.

Are you in favour of the use of technology in football?

I think the game as it is and the laws of the game should be as they are, and if there are changes it has to be studied very carefully through the International Football Association Board, the organisation which implements the rules of the game. And I support technology’s input, because I think goal-line technology made a big difference. Yes, maybe now it’s not easy to implement it in every league or tournament, but I think it made a big difference and the accuracy of the technology in that sense made it very clear that teams have not suffered wrong decisions. But we have to look at other ways as well, consulting through the stakeholders and the people and the professional leagues on how we improve this game and introduce new laws. I’m not restricted to anything; we have to have an open mind. But we have to be practical and simple to keep the game as it is, as beautiful as it is.

Did you play football?

I played as a youngster, as a lover of the game. I was an attacking midfielder.

Like Xavi Hernández…?

Well, more or less, but with the only thing in common is the position. Of course I never played like he does. Obviously. I think that in my footballing time, the 70s and 80s, football was very different to how it is now.

Which footballers stand out? At your age, maybe Maradona?

Maradona was a great player, the best of my generation. But you can’t just pick one. [Alfredo] Di Stéfano, Pelé and of course [Ferenc] Puskas… Great names. And now you see [Leo] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo, who have always entertained us in football. They’re in a league of their own; they bring so much joy into the game.

Manchester United against Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final. That was a crazy three minutes.

How do you aim to put an end to corruption in FIFA?

I think we have to safeguard the game. We have to make a lot of regulations and I’m sure that through the Reform Committee’s recommendations that are going to be implemented there are very clear guidelines. But we have to work closer to other organisations, government and non-government organisations, to make sure that the game is clean. It’s not easy, because you have over a billion people who are related to football and I don’t think it’s just FIFA that can handle all that responsibility. You have to use the authority of the national associations, the confederations, other organisations as well, to be part of this process.

You’ve been accused in relation to the repression of athletes in Bahrain in 2011. What do you have to say about that matter?

Just a few days ago we signed a pledge in that regard, for the protection of Human Rights. It’s a priority for me and I think it should be too for the future FIFA president. And if we talk about human rights and the rights of players, yes of course, we will always be a part of that to support the players and to support the athletes all around the world. As to the accusations, I can only say that they were made without proof and only for political reasons.

Have you thought about creating an anti-corruption observatory at FIFA?

I need to examine the idea of creating a global anti-corruption agency, a joint agency, run by sporting organisations with justice departments around the world. But aside from that kind of initiative, we need to focus on the game, on football, and not politics. We need to focus on football as soon as possible to get back to normality. And I hope we can bring the unity and understanding to FIFA that we now have in Asia. It has to be a team effort, it needs to be done professionally and positively, but the main thing are the intentions, if you have good intentions and the intention to do the right thing, I’m sure everything will go well.

Does FIFA need a complete revolution?

Not a complete revolution. It needs to regenerate, reposition itself and reconsider its objectives. These are the reasons for which I’m standing and the true objective of a president.