KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - New Asian football chief Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa will make introducing an ethics committee a top priority as the Bahraini attempts to bring about sweeping reform at the scandal- hit Asian Football Confederation.
Just 24 hours before Sheikh Salman claimed a landslide election win on Thursday, the AFC suffered more embarrassing headlines with Sri Lankan Vernon Manilal Fernando banned for eight years by FIFA for unethical behaviour.
Sheikh Salman told Reuters the introduction of a new body to tackle the problems was an essential part in pushing through his transparency manifesto.
“If there are any wrongdoings by some, there has to be a tool to have a watchdog on everybody including the president,” Sheikh Salman said hours after hosting his first AFC Congress.
”I think this can be done in the next two years and hopefully we will do it, by the end of the year we will have to have something up and running.
“It is disappointing that we haven’t created an ethics committee to look at these matters to have a proper mechanism to tackle these things and I think FIFA will support us on that.”
The married father of three takes over the AFC at a difficult time with the body suffering bribery issues amongst members, allegations of age cheating in Southeast Asian competitions, violence on the field, referee abuse in Lebanon and player deaths in Indonesia.
But undoubtedly the biggest problem is match-fixing, with cases rife in nations big and small including China, South Korea, Malaysia, Lebanon and Singapore.
“I think we need, whether it is a task force, a committee or a team, to look into these matters and see what the proper matters are to fight it and hopefully with the support of FIFA and the local governments as well,” the 47-year-old said.
“I don’t think it can be done on our own. There are a lot of resources that are going to be put into that. It is a responsibility for all - not just the AFC.”
Sheikh Salman will initially serve two years rather than the normal four because he is effectively replacing former leader Mohammed Bin Hammam who was dismissed by FIFA for bribery and corruption halfway through what was the Qatari’s third term.
During the near two-year interim period under caretaker president Zhang Jilong of China, while Bin Hammam attempted to clear his name, the AFC largely went to ground, releasing few statements as the problems mounted.
Sheikh Salman said this would no longer be the case and the AFC would have a voice in world football.
“Our voice has to be heard, especially if it is related to match-fixing, corruption and any misleading actions or whatever,” the head of the Bahrain FA said.
“We have to have a strong monitor and, of course, the support Asian needs, whether it is for its own interests, of course I will be heard.”
During his campaign there were many loud voices alleging he was guilty of human rights breaches during the pro-democracy uprising.
Bahrain crushed Shi‘ite-led demonstrations that began in February 2011. At least 35 people were killed. Lower-level unrest has continued since then and Sheikh Salman said he had been the victim of a smear campaign.
“Unfortunately to say some media are controlled by other people ... to say what they want whether it is the truth or not,” he said.
”It needs to be addressed and looked at. If we are going to talk about stories without any proof, if you want to take us out of this game, out of football about matters to talk about matters we are not responsible for.
“At the end of the day we need to stick to our statutes and regulations and talk about football.”
On the football side, goalline technology remains a hot topic.
“It is good to have it but the cost? You can do it in a World Cup, in the (English) Premier League but can other member associations handle the expenses? We have to be realistic and practical as well,” Sheikh Salman said.
Reporting by Patrick Johnston, Editing by Mike Collett and Ed Osmond