Bahrain's soccer chief has hit back at Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohamed Bin Hammam after being accused of leading a clandestine plot to oust the Qatari.
Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa said accusations he was heading a campaign funded by prominent officials keen to topple Bin Hammam were ''out of line'' and called for fair play in upcoming elections for the FIFA executive committee.
Al Khalifa is running against Bin Hammam for his West Asian place, the first challenge to his FIFA seat in 14 years. Defeat for Bin Hammam would seriously undermine his Asian presidency, informed sources say.
''It's not fair to have to hear these comments from someone like Bin Hammam,'' Al Khalifa told Reuters in a telephone interview.
''His comments are completely untrue and out of line. What I have said so far has been fair and proper. I don't accept comments like this from this person.''
In a weekend interview with Qatari television, Bin Hammam vowed to quit if he lost his FIFA executive committee seat.
He suggested Al Khalifa had been ''instructed'' to launch the campaign by other AFC member countries keen to remove him, in particular, South Korea.
In an apparent attempt to guarantee himself a place on the committee, Bin Hammam has put forward a statutory amendment that would automatically grant the AFC president a seat on the FIFA panel, taking one of the seven vice-presidential positions.
The current Asian vice-president on the FIFA committee is South Korean Chung Mong-joon.
Al Khalifa blamed the AFC chief for creating disharmony in Asian soccer and urged him to campaign fairly, without personal attacks.
''We shouldn't make this personal,'' he said. ''There are difficulties between member associations now because of Bin Hammam's management of football in Asia. I know he's had problems because of how he's run the AFC.''
''The upcoming election is an election for change. We really don't want to see what's happening now. There's a 'you're either with me or against me' approach with the other party.
''Threats are being made to people and in a world of democracy, this is simply unacceptable.''
Bin Hammam, who has been touted as a future FIFA president, has been in charge of the AFC since 2002 and is credited with creating ''Vision'' development projects aimed at raising the standard of the Asian game at grassroots levels.
However, he has caused a stir in recent months by attempting to move the AFC headquarters from Kuala Lumpur - its home for 43 years - after festering disputes that have put him at odds with several prominent East Asian countries.