GENEVA (AP) — FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali has questioned the role of election rival Sheikh Salman in not protecting Bahrain players who alleged abuses after pro-democracy protests in 2011.
In the strongest statement yet on human rights ahead of the Feb. 26 election, the Jordanian prince dismissed the sheikh's consistent defense that national security issues are beyond the control of sports leaders.
"How are you then going to earn the respect of the entire world and players across the world, as well as FAs (football associations), if you couldn't even take care of your own?" Prince Ali told reporters on Thursday after a news conference near the United Nations office in Geneva.
Sheikh Salman has become front-runner in a FIFA campaign he began by strongly denying any part in helping to identify athletes who took part in Arab Spring protests five years ago.
Some Bahrain team players alleged they were tortured by government forces while detained for attending pro-democracy events.
Sheikh Salman was then president of the Bahrain Football Association, and has often said government issues are not the duty of sports leaders.
"Whatever is related to the political side and government side is not a concern of mine," the sheikh told the Associated Press in an interview in Paris on Tuesday. "We are people of football. They can ask me anything that is related to the game."
Prince Ali rejected that argument Thursday, two weeks ahead of the five-man election.
"If a candidate was in a position before and simply says that, 'Those issues are to do with politics and therefore I cannot interfere?' No," the prince told a small group of reporters. "If you are not going to take care of your own players and if you are not going to stick up for them, that in itself is a problem."
In the earlier news conference, the prince replied to a question about human rights in Bahrain by saying the protection of players was a "simple, basic fact of the matter."
Still, Prince Ali acknowledged that a candidate's record on human rights was for the FIFA election committee to decide.
The three-member FIFA election panel approved Sheikh Salman's candidacy in November after weighing an analysis by the governing body's ethics committee.
"I give the benefit of the doubt to everyone," said Prince Ali, whose home nation Jordan also saw pro-democracy protests in 2011 on a lower level than Bahrain.