The battle for the top job in world football arrived in the United States on Thursday with FIFA presidential contenders hoping to secure crucial votes from the scandal-tainted governing body for soccer in the region.
UEFA official Gianni Infantino and Asian chief Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa were both expected to be among the FIFA Presidential contenders giving presentations to members from CONCACAF, which governs football in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Infantino, a key ally of banned former presidential hopeful Michel Platini, and Sheikh Salman, the influential head of the Asian Football Confederation are battling for the right to replace ousted former FIFA chief Sepp Blatter at elections later this month.
Also in the running are Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al Hussein, South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale and outsider Jerome Champagne.
All five candidates were expected to make presentations to CONCACAF officials at a hotel in Miami from Thursday to Friday.
It is not known whether the leadership of CONCACAF — holding a potentially pivotal 35 votes in the FIFA ballot — will call on its membership to endorse its preferred candidate.
An umbrella group of Central American CONCACAF members, UNCAF, last month endorsed Infantino’s bid to succeed Blatter.
CONCACAF has been at the heart of the global corruption scandal, with former president Jeffrey Webb and his successor Alfredo Hawit both arrested last year in separate raids in Switzerland.
Infantino joined the race to replace Blatter in a February 26 vote following the ban handed down to UEFA supremo Michel Platini.
– Expanded World Cup –
Infantino has vowed to clean up FIFA if elected after months of corruption allegations which have plunged the global football body into the worst crisis in its history.
The UEFA official has planned to introduce 12-year term limits for senior officials and increase transparency throughout FIFA.
Infantino, who has also secured backing from South American nations, has also proposed expanding the World Cup to 40 teams and establishing a “clear rotation” system for hosting the tournament under which each continent would need to wait for at least two editions before hosting the event again.
Sheikh Salman of Bahrain meanwhile told AFP last month he believes the race for the presidency is a straight shoot-out between himself and Infantino.
“I think Gianni has the support of the (UEFA) confederation and I think Asia has its candidate. From what I hear, from what I feel, I think it’s between me and him,” Infantino said.
With the FIFA vote looming ever closer, the campaign took an acrimonious turn on Thursday with Jordan’s Prince Ali lashing out at the tactics deployed by his rivals.
Prince Ali condemned efforts by other candidates to secure block support from regional confederations, urging FIFA’s 209-strong membership to vote as individuals.
– Dividing the world –
“I am not a candidate who tries to use a couple of executive committees or confederations to push voters in a certain way,” Prince Ali told reporters in Geneva.
“That is what differentiates me from other candidates…If other candidates do choose to work on regions and try to divide up the world, then, yes, I think that is wrong,” he added.
Speaking in Geneva, Ali laid out his plans for his first year on the job, highlighted by his pledge to release former US prosecutor Michael Garcia’s report on alleged bribery and corruption during bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
FIFA has not yet released the 2014 report, citing procedural delays. Garcia resigned in protest, claiming the report was suppressed.
Ali further said he would install a limit of two, four-year terms for FIFA’s president and executive committee members if elected.
He also warned that FIFA, wracked by a web of scandals involving most of its top leadership, was running out of time to implement reform.
“The world is cleaning up FIFA whether FIFA likes it or not,” he said.