Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 June 2019

Mohammed Khalfan Al Romaithi vows to lead Asian football into a 'new era' after launching AFC presidency campaign

The chairman of the UAE General Authority for Sport outlined his manifesto, entitled “Making Football Fair”, at Louvre Abu Dhabi on Thursday

Mohammed Khalfan Al Romaithi with his “Making Football Fair” manifesto at Louvre Abu Dhabi. Getty Images
Mohammed Khalfan Al Romaithi with his “Making Football Fair” manifesto at Louvre Abu Dhabi. Getty Images

Mohammed Khalfan Al Romaithi, candidate for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation, says the game in the continent has “sold its soul” and that it is time to take it from the hands of the few and bring it back to the many.

The Emirati, chairman of the UAE General Authority for Sport, on Thursday launched his campaign to replaceincumbent Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Khalifa following next month’s election, where the Bahraini is seeking a third term.

Qatar’s Saoud Al Mohannadi, vice president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), is also in the running. The vote takes place at the AFC Congress in Kuala Lumpur on April 6.

Speaking at Louvre Abu Dhabi, Al Romaithi outlined his manifesto, entitled “Making Football Fair”, in which he promised to revive Asian football by raising $320 million (1.175 billion) in sponsorship, boosting the annual investment across all 47 member associations by at least $2m, and developing significantly both women’s football and youth football.

“When it comes to football in Asia, the journey remains unfulfilled and unfinished,” Al Romaithi said during his speech. “Football has not developed and progressed. The graffiti on the wall spells out a simple truth: football in Asia is failing.

“I have seen at first-hand how the power of football can change the lives of everyone for the better. But, in Asia, this power has been abused to the disadvantage of our people.

“Our beautiful game has been tainted and tarnished. Its riches have been emptied into the pockets of a few; its lifeblood has been drained; its soul has been sold.

“Asia deserves better. Now is the time for change. Now is the time to address the wrongdoings, the inequalities and the failures of the past. Now is the time for a new era. Now is the time to make football fair - for the many and not just the few.”

Al Romaithi said he is certain three weeks is enough time to convince the member associations of his suitability to the role. Last October, Sheikh Salman claimed he had the support of 90 per cent of the body’s full members. President since 2013, he was reelected in 2015.

“We hear about the 40 votes but we heard only about one announcement: the Iraqi announcement,” Al Romaithi said. “I think candidates follow strategies to affect the morale of other countries.

“Our mental strength is very strong and my team is very strong and vibrant and they do their job properly. We don’t listen to what the other candidates say. What we care about is to do our job properly and have no regrets in the end.

“Any member association who loves their country and loves their football, I believe I have given them a very good manifesto. If they will think otherwise then it’s up to them. And, of course, I have personal relationships with them and the backing of my government. All kinds of agencies and stakeholders are pushing for my success.”

Asked how he will generate the $320m, Al Romaithi said: “From our private sectors in the UAE; the whole country is backing me up. Whether it’s the leadership, the private sector. And I have all the promises from them - concrete promises - that it will be signed right after I win this election. Guaranteed.

“If I don’t achieve what is in the manifesto, I will ask the Congress to let me step down. That’s how serious I am. If I don’t deliver within six months to one year, I will ask for an Extraordinary Congress and I will step down. I am a serious candidate.”

Al Romaithi said he supports the expansion of the 2022 World Cup to 48 teams, and the possibility that the UAE and other Gulf countries could help Qatar in hosting the game’s premier event. Fifa are expected to decide on whether to increase the tournament when their governing council meets in Miami next week.

“I will tell you exactly what I think,” Al Romaithi said. “If Fifa insists on 48 teams, Qatar will need support. Now Kuwait are potential hosts, Oman can do it.

Updated: March 7, 2019 08:22 PM

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