Sheikh Salman al Khalifa will step up his campaign to unseat Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam from Fifa's executive committee this week when he visits leading football figures in China. The president of the Bahrain Football Association has put himself forward as a candidate for the position on world football's decision making body, which will be voted on at the AFC Congress in Kuala Lumpur on May 8. Mr Bin Hammam currently holds the position but has been pulled into a bitter battle to retain his seat as opposition to his running of the confederation gathers momentum, with the vote seen as a referendum on his six-and-a-half years in power.
Key nations such as South Korea and Japan have already declared their opposition to Mr Bin Hammam retaining the seat - one of four allotted to Asia - with five of the remaining seven members of the East Asian Football Federation also signalling their intention to vote for Sheikh Salman. All 46 member nations of the AFC will vote on the issue, with a simple majority enough for victory. "On February 28, the East Asian federation held its exco meeting and seven associations have already declared they will back Sheikh Salman," EAFF general secretary Takeo Okada told PA Sport. "The only exceptions are China and DPR Korea and Sheikh Salman is flying to China this week to meet them."
The trip to Beijing is part of an Asia-wide tour to meet with officials from federations throughout the region as Sheikh Salman's campaign continues to gather momentum. He has already addressed a gathering of 19 national associations and sporting bodies who pledged their support at a meeting instigated by the Olympic Council of Asia in Kuwait several weeks ago and the Bahraini intends to visit South East Asia after his trip to Beijing. "Many people say Sheikh Salman is strong, other people say Hammam is strong so I think the situation is almost even," said Mr Okada.
"One weak point for Sheikh Salman is that many people don't know him. Everybody knows Bin Hammam, so now Sheikh Salman is visiting each country to explain himself and what he stands for. "Once everybody knows him and compares him to Bin Hammam, people will be able to judge which is better. Sheikh Salman is getting stronger because he is getting known by more people, especially in the ASEAN area." Mr Bin Hammam, who was took over as AFC president in August 2002 from Malaysia's Sultan Ahmad Shah, has said he will stand down from his position at the head of the confederation if he loses the vote to Sheikh Salman. *PA Sport