FIFA rivals scrap for votes ahead of Congress

Zurich (AFP) –


Europe's Gianni Infantino and Asian football leader Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa led the five-man battle for support ahead of crisis-stricken FIFA's landmark vote on Friday for a new president.

Amid final political attacks and pleas, Sheikh Salman, Infantino and their rivals went to regional confederation meetings in Zurich on Thursday ahead of the vote to find a replacement for Sepp Blatter.

Football's multi-billion dollar world governing body has been in turmoil since the arrest of seven football officials in Zurich at a Congress in May over more than $200 million (182 million euros) paid in bribes.

Others have been arrested and Blatter has since been suspended for six years.

All the candidates have said Friday's vote will be one of the most important in FIFA history.

The African and Asian football confederations kept up their campaign for Sheikh Salman, who has vowed "not to mortgage" the governing body, to become the next FIFA president.

The two federations have 100 votes of the 209 at FIFA.

CAF first vice president Suketu Patel said: "We discussed our concerns and who we think can deliver and we supported him (Sheikh Salman), we think he would be the person to care about our concerns."

The Bahraini royal also got "united" support at a special AFC meeting, a statement released by the confederation said.

Infantino called the Congress "a crossroads moment for FIFA" and said the decisions taken "will shape football for generations to come".

"FIFA needs to turn the page on the controversies," said French contender Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA official.

Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan said: "We have to restore first of all confidence for the sponsors, for our fans worldwide and in order to do so we have to be open, we have to be transparent to bring this organisation into the 21st century."

Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa is the fifth candidate. He insisted he will stay in the campaign and called FIFA a "broken house".

Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini returned to hog the headlines when FIFA rejected their appeals against eight year bans but reduced their punishment to six years.

Infantino on Thursday defended his plan to give more than $1 billion back to national federations in his final manifesto plea.

The Swiss-Italian, a former right hand man to Platini, has been accused of putting FIFA's finances at risk.

But the UEFA general secretary hit back at critics and what he called "personal attacks" in a letter to FIFA's 209 national federations.

"The increases in development and other assistance funds outlined in my manifesto can easily be put in place," he said.

- Development not politics -

Infantino is proposing to reinvest about $1.2 billion of FIFA's estimated $5.5 billion in revenues every four years back into grants for national associations.

"Very significant savings can easily be made in FIFA's costs so that the amount for reinvestment in football I am proposing can be safely delivered," he said.

"This is what FIFA should be about -- football development! Not politics, political intrigues or personal attacks."

Sheikh Salman has said Infantino's plans could "bankrupt" FIFA while Champagne called the plans "dangerous".

The Bahraini, who has said he will be a non-executive president and split FIFA into football and commercial divisions, has faced renewed criticism ahead of the vote.

He denied involvement in what a British lawmaker called a "cash-for-votes" scandal when elected head of the AFC in 2013. A German television programme renewed questions about his role in a clampdown on pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in 2011. The sheikh has called the allegations "nasty lies".

The sheikh has almost certainly lost two votes as Indonesia and Kuwait are suspended by FIFA for government interference and are unlikely to be able to vote on Friday.

Many national associations are keeping their voting intentions secret.

AFP asked all 209 associations how they planned to vote and 61 said they would keep their vote a secret. Of those who did answer, 68 said they would back Infantino, 28 Sheikh Salman and four Prince Ali. Forty-eight did not answer.

The Congress will also vote on reforms drawn up since the scandal erupted.

These include limiting the new president and other top officials to a maximum 12 years in office, revealing salaries -- which Blatter refused to do -- and tougher vetting of FIFA executive members.

Some FIFA executive members oppose the reforms, according to football sources.

Since May, US authorities have indicted 39 individuals and two companies for corruption over football deals.

Swiss authorities are investigating FIFA's award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar. Blatter is under investigation for criminal mismanagement.