Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa: Human rights allegations 'dirty lies'
FIFA presidential candidate Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa has hit out at "dirty tricks and dirty lies" after human rights groups accused him of helping the authorities arrest footballers who protested against Bahrain's ruling monarchy.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the Bahraini sheikh, who has been cleared to run for the presidency, said he played no part in helping to identify footballers who took part in protests in 2011.
He denounced the accusations -- which he denied last month -- as politically motivated.
Salman's role in that investigation dominated the public debate around the start of his campaign to succeed Sepp Blatter in the Feb. 26 FIFA election.
"It's damaging, because it hurts and it really gets to your guts because you hear things that are way beyond any reality," the Asian Football Confederation president said.
"Unfortunately I have been used as tool just for a purpose which is a political one... in elections you always see dirty tricks and dirty lies."
The accusations against Salman relate to the start of the Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011. More than 150 athletes and sports officials were detained, and some claim they were tortured by government forces.
Human rights groups complained to FIFA that Salman, the head of the Bahraini football federation at the time, had a role in identifying players who took part in the protests.
But he said: "All I can say to them is that they either got the wrong guy and the wrong name, or I'm sorry to say they are creating nasty lies about something they want to use for their purpose.
"If they want to look at political issues I think there are other channels that they need to talk [to] but here in football we talk about football... we don't want politics to get involved in matters of the game."
A Bahrain international player who was jailed for three months in 2011 defended Salman in an interview organised by the candidate's campaign team.
He said: "I have known Sheikh Salman for a while. I don't think that he was involved in this... I would never lie. I don't think he did this and I am sure of it."
Scrutiny of Salman, 49, has centred on a 2011 Bahraini report that he had been proposed to lead a fact-finding committee in relation to the uprising.
"This is a committee that's been asked to look [at events] within the sports law, not the civil law... but never met because it cannot look into responsibility beyond its restriction," the sheikh said.
"The local law forbids us from taking any action which is unrelated to sport. It's as easy as that. And the Bahrain federation which I chaired for more than 10 years never took a single decision on unrelated football matters. Never."
On Thursday, FIFA's election watchdog confirmed that Salman would be one of five presidential contenders.