Abu Dhabi's former police chief Mohammed Khalfan Al Romaithi today officially launched his campaign for President of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) with a thinly-veiled attack on the current incumbent, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa of Bahrain.
"I have seen 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 detriment of our people," Al Romaithi told a specially invited audience here.
"Now is the time for change, now is the time for a new era, now is the time to make football fair for all.
"Asia is failing.
"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."
Al Romaithi, whose campaign slogan is "Make football fair", has promised $2 million (£1.5 million/€1.75 million) in support for each Asian Football Federation annually and said he would focus on encouraging more women to take up football if he is elected at the AFC Congress in Kuala Lumpur on April 6, where Qatar's Saud Al-Muhannadi is also standing.
He claimed he could create a $320 million (£240 million/€285 million) "Fair Fund" for the development of football across Asia, money raised with the help of backing from the United Arab Emirates Government and new sponsors.
We need a confederation that grows the sport from the grassroots to the elite levels. A confederation that promotes and protects all players, regardless of gender, geography, politics, ability or age. Its time to MAKE FOOTBALL FAIR again! #makefootballfair #alromaithi #football pic.twitter.com/oZC7FhDKjE— Mohammed Khalfan Al-Romaithi (@AlRomaithi2019) March 7, 2019
During a a powerful address, Al Romaithi, a former President of the UAE Football Association and a member of the AFC Executive Committee since 2015, pledged to "make significant levels of new investment for every Member Association, increase participation at all levels of the game" and introduce genuine "transparency and independence".
Among his criticism of the AFC and its current leadership is its response to the crisis involving Hakeem Al-Araibi, the Bahrain footballer arrested in Thailand.
The AFC was condemned by campaigners for its muted response during Al-Araibi's more than two months detention in a Bangkok prison, where he awaited possible extradition to Bahrain, despite his refugee status in Australia.
Al-Araibi was a vocal critic of Sheikh Salman, a member of Bahrain's ruling family and a cousin of the king, when the former contested the FIFA Presidential election in 2015.
After weeks of silence, the AFC said on January 26 that Sheikh Salman had had no influence on its handling of the matter before eventually supporting Al-Araibi's release.
"The AFC stands under a dark cloud, one shrouded in politics and poor governance," Al-Romaithi said.
"My manifesto is underpinned by my values, values that have been instilled in me through a lifetime of service to my country and my continent.
"Integrity, transparency, fairness and respect are the fundamental principles by which I live my life and they will become the bedrock of my Presidency."
Sheikh Salman was elected AFC President in 2013 at the AFC Extraordinary Congress.
He had taken over from Acting President Zhang Jilong of China after Qatari Mohammed bin Hammam was banned for life by FIFA.
Al Romaithi claimed the new money he planned to raise would also include launching a second tier Asian Cup tournament and expanding continental competition at junior levels.
He also plans to launch an infrastructure fund to develop stadiums and training grounds in Asia and revealed he had a commitment for $50 million (£38 million/€44 million) from the UAE to launch it.
Al Romaithi, commander-in-chief of the Abu Dhabi police until last year, promised the money would be distributed independently of him and the AFC would introduce a financial governance index to ensure all grants are means tested.
At least 25 per cent of the money would be ring-fenced to invest in women's football.
"Now is the time to address the wrong doings, the inequalities and the failures of the past," Al Romaithi said.
"Now is the time for a new era.
"Now is the time to make football fair for the many and not just the few.
"I want every boy and girl from every nation, from every faith and of every age to have the chance to play football and dream of one day lifting the World Cup."