(Reuters) – Mohammed Khalfan Al Romaithi ended his attempt to unseat Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa when he pledged his support for the Bahraini on Thursday.
Al Romaithi, from the United Arab Emirates, had sought to oust Sheikh Salman from the role he has held since 2013 when the AFC has its presidential election in Kuala Lumpur on April 6, standing under the slogan “Making Football Fair” and aiming to raise more than $300 million to develop the game in Asia.
But Al Romaithi, who heads up the UAE’s General Authority for Sport, said he would now back Sheikh Salman after the pair met in Abu Dhabi.
“I would like to thank Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa for his initiative and his visit to the UAE and I would like to stress that when I decided to run for the presidency it wasn’t because I was aiming for the position itself,” Al Romaithi said in a statement.
“The main reason was to put Asian football where it deserves to be: among the other continents through a programme that reflects my vision on how to develop the game in the biggest continent in the world.
“I was happy that Sheikh Salman wants to take advantage of this programme and aim to achieve it. Therefore, I will spare no effort in supporting him in order to reach this goal.”
Speculation began to mount that Al Romaithi was reconsidering his candidacy when he cut short a trip to east Asia last week, with campaign officials saying he had returned to the United Arab Emirates to attend the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics.
But with Sheikh Salman asserting that he is in possession of letters of support from 40 of the AFC’s 47 member associations, Al Romaithi faced a difficult challenge.
“I would like to thank his excellency Mohamad Khalfan Al Romaithi for his hospitality and the good spirit he has shown towards us in order to complete this meeting despite the competition between us, which has been for the good of Asian football,” Sheikh Salman said.
“I would like to thank him for his support and for his ambitious election programme, which is an important worksheet from which we can develop Asian football and we will definitely work towards implementing this programme.”
Al Romaithi was one of two challengers for the most senior role in Asian football, with Qatar’s Saoud Al Mohannadi also due to stand.
Sheikh Salman, who is seeking to win a third AFC election, made an unsuccessful bid to become FIFA president in 2015.
(Reporting by Michael Church, editing by Ed Osmond)