Asia’s football chief Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa has formally submitted his bid for the FIFA presidency, a report said, drastically shaking up the election race for the scandal-plagued world body.

The 49-year-old Bahraini royal registered his bid on Sunday, according to the Bahrain News Agency, a day ahead of the deadline for the February 26 election.

Confirmation was not available from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) or FIFA, which said it would issue a statement when the deadline has passed.

Shaikh Salman would be a serious contender to take over from the beleaguered Sepp Blatter given his position as head of FIFA’s second-largest confederation.

He would further drain support from UEFA chief Michel Platini, whom he formerly backed for the job and who is suspended pending a probe into a $2 million payment from FIFA.

The soft-spoken sheikh is also likely to torpedo the bid of his Jordanian rival Prince Ali bin al Hussein by robbing him of a significant number of Asian votes.

He looks set to become one of six candidates vying for a job which is under heightened scrutiny after a series of corruption scandals allegedly involving senior officials.

Frenchman Jerome Champagne, Trinidad and Tobago’s David Nakhid and South African anti-apartheid campaigner Tokyo Sexwale have also declared their candidacies for the vote in Zurich.

Shaikh Salman has a powerful ally in Kuwait’s FIFA executive committee member Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad al Sabah, who also heads the Olympic Council of Asia and the Association of National Olympic Committees.

A potential hurdle looms in the shape of human rights campaigners, who have accused Shaikh Salman of complicity in Bahrain’s harsh crackdown on pro-democracy activists in 2011.

Shaikh Salman denies the claim. After he won a landslide election to become AFC president in 2013, he challenged his detractors to produce evidence. – Agence France-Presse

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