Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa yesterday officially took charge of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for a second successive four-year term.
But the occasion, the 29th Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Congress, was distinctly somber as Shaikh Salman was not present in Kuala Lumpur but back in Bahrain mourning the sudden demise of his mother.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino summed up the mood succinctly during his speech as he praised the efforts of Shaikh Salman in the last four years in developing, spreading and increasing the standard of the game in the continent.
“But it is a sad moment, nevertheless. We miss Shaikh Salman very much here today and on behalf of the football world I extend our condolences to Shaikh Salman,” said Infantino before requesting a minute’s silence as a mark of respect for the departed soul.
Shaikh Salman was reelected by acclamation as he was the lone candidate in the fray following the withdrawals of his two rivals – Saoud A Aziz M A Al Mohannadi of Qatar and UAE’s Mohammed Khalfan Matar Saeed Al Romaithi – earlier this week.
Shaikh Salman will also serve a second successive term as senior vice-president of Fifa.
Outgoing senior vice-president Praful Patel, who was among five members elected to the powerful Fifa council, the first Indian to occupy this prestigious position, addressed the delegates on behalf of Shaikh Salman and read out his statement.
“I am extremely honoured at the level of support and trust that you have invested in me to lead the Asian football family again in the next four years.
“I am sure that with your continued support and solidarity, we can all take Asian football to even greater heights.
“I also am grateful for all your declarations of support and your endorsements in recent weeks,” Shaikh Salman added in the written statement read out by Patel.
“As I have said many times – this is Asia’s time.”
Later all members of AFC, including GCC members, cut across national and regional differences in hailing Shaikh Salman’s contribution in the last four years.
“The Unified Asia created by Shaikh Salman was very much evident at the Congress. I’m sure AFC has a very fertile future under Shaikh Salman,” said Patel.
Head of the Lebanese Football Federation Haidar Hashim thanked the Congress for reinforcing faith in Shaikh Salman’s leadership.
“AFC will only get better and stronger under his leadership,” said Hashim.
Syrian Football Federation president Fadi Dabbas expressed similar sentiments.
“The family members of AFC will only get closer and stronger under Shaikh Salman’s wise leadership. This continuity is very vital for sustained growth,” said Dabbas.
Another fact highlighted by some of the members was Shaikh Salman’s single-minded determination to boost AFC’s revenues with the signing off on a new deal for AFC’s commercial and broadcast rights last June.
It is worth mentioning here that this agreement with Chinese-backed company DDMC Fortis will ensure revenues more than double from those under the current agreement with long-term partner Lagardere Sports.
Meanwhile, Bahrain Football Federation president Shaikh Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, part of the Kingdom’s delegation in Kuala Lumpur, said the support to Shaikh Salman is incredible.
“Everyone that I spoke to had only words of praise and this proves how well Shaikh Salman has led his team in the last six years,” said Shaikh Ali speaking to the Bahrain media.