A former Bahrain international has claimed in a German documentary that FIFA presidential candidate Sheikh Salman is lying about his knowledge of players being tortured in the Middle Eastern state.
Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa is the front-runner to replace disgraced Sepp Blatter as president of world football‘s governing body in Friday’s vote in Zurich.
The 50-year-old is a senior member of the Bahrain royal family and has substantial support amongstfootball‘s powermongers.
But human rights groups have accused him of being involved in the arrest and torture of footballers involved in the 2011 civil protests when he was head of the Bahrain Football Association.
Sheikh Salman says the accusations against him are “false, nasty lies” and has signed a pledge to end rights abuses and corruption in sport.
But ex-Bahrain international Hakeem Al Oraibi claims Sheikh Salman headed a committee which persecuted him and his team-mates, amongst others, for their part in the 2011 protests and must have known that they were tortured.
The central defender, who now plays for Australian second-division side Green Gully SC in Melbourne, described what happened after his arrest.
“They spent three hours hitting me hard on my legs, while saying: ‘we will break your bones, we will destroy your future, you will never play football again with these legs’,” he told WDR programme Sport Inside.
The footballer fled his home country and is seeking political asylum in Australia, but a court in Bahrain sentenced him to 10 years in jail in his absence.
He says he was accused of attacking a police station at a time when he was playing in a televised match.
He insists Sheikh Salman knew about the beatings both he and his team-mates suffered.
The German documentary makers claim Bahrain’s state press agency, BNA, put out three separate reports confirming Sheikh Salman was the head of the investigation committee, tasked with finding those who took part in the protests.
Sheikh Salman’s lawyers, based in London, denied the committee ever existed when confronted by the WDR programme.
“Sheikh Salman was responsible for the footballplayers, for the national team –- how can it be that he didn’t know anything about it?,” said Al Oraibi.
“I am an example of it, and I have evidence. What Sheikh Salman claims, is a big lie.” – Agence France-Presse